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5.2 Digital Divide

4 min readβ€’march 13, 2023

Minna Chow

Minna Chow

AP Computer Science Principles ⌨️

80Β resources
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The digital divide refers to the gaps between those who have access to technology and the internet and those who don't.

Factors that Influence the Digital Divide

Internet and technology access varies across several factors:
  • Demographic
    • Younger people are more likely to be comfortable with the internet and technology than older people.
    • People with higher levels of education tend to use the internet or technology more than people with lower levels of education.
    • In some places, women have less access to technology and the internet than men.
  • Socioeconomic
    • People with higher incomes are more likely to be able to purchase and maintain digital tools than people with lower incomes. This includes being able to afford the initial cost of a device, but also the ability to repair that device if it breaks or upgrade that device if it gets too old.
  • Geographic
    • Some areas allow for more internet access than others
      • Ex: from one country to another
      • from one part of a country to another
As you can see, the difference in access can be financial (ex: not having the money for a computer or stable Wi-Fi), but it can also be educational (ex: not knowing how to use digital devices) and regional (not having the opportunity to use digital devices or the internet). These access disparities can overlap: someone without financial access to technology might also not have educational access.
The digital divide is both an intra-national and international issue: it occurs both within countries and between countries. For example, countries in the Western world tend to have a larger percentage of internet users than those outside of it.
However, there are also digital divides within countries. Take, for example, the United States, where reportedly millions of Americans lack access to reliable, high-speed internet.

This graphic shows the number of internet users in each country as a percentage of their total population. Image source: Jeff Ogden (W163) / CC BY-SA

The digital divide can also affect both groups and individuals. Certain groups may have less access to digital resources than others, but certain individuals may also have less access to digital resources than others. For example, two students in the same school or two members of the same family might have vastly different access to digital resources.

Harmful Impacts of the Digital Divide

The existence of the digital divide raises, and reflects, issues of equity, access, and influence, both within our communities and within the whole world. With the internet and technology becoming such an important part of our lives, thinking about the digital divide encourages us to ask:
  • Who is being left behind as schools and companies rely more and more on technology and the internet?
  • Whose voices do we hear on digital platforms? Who gets to make decisions about how the internet or organizations on the internet are run?
Here are just two examples of ways the digital divide can be harmful.

Educational Opportunities

Think about how crucial technology and the internet are to you as a student. There's a good chance you've taken at least one virtual class or turned assignments in on online platforms such as Canvas.
We can see the digital divide very starkly in recent(ish) world events. During the 2020 COVID Pandemic, many schools across the United States shifted to virtual learning systems, with classes being held over video calls. As a result, students without stable internet connections or efficient technological devices didn't have the same experience as their better-connected peers, and many suffered educationally as a result.
Students without access to the internet or technology, or without digital know-how, are also denied learning resources such as Fiveable because they either can't use or find them.
These are just some of the ways the digital divide can hurt students.

Employment Opportunities

Furthermore, the digital divide can also have negative economic impacts. Those without access to the Internet and digital technologies may be at a disadvantage in terms of finding and applying for jobs, with so many employers now hiring on online sites like Indeed or LinkedIn.
Employees may also be hindered from being able to do their jobs without a stable internet connection or good computers. They may also find it difficult to access resources to help them advance their careers or find better employment opportunities.
It should come as no surprise that the digital divide can exacerbate already present inequalities between rich and poor, between certain races, and between (well-connected) urban and (not well-connected) rural communities.

Reducing the Digital Divide

Fortunately, there are steps that individuals, organizations, and governments can take to help reduce the digital divide. Here are some examples! Can you think of any others?
  • Organizations can release educational resources to teach people how to navigate the internet. They may create and release digital literacy programs: programs that teach people how to use the Internet and digital technologies.
  • Organizations with the funding and resources can provide devices and/or hotspots to people that need them.
    • Examples: Schools, libraries, universities
  • Local and national governments can fund businesses that provide internet access to areas that don't currently have access. Governments can also help support institutions that provide communal internet access, such as libraries.
Here are some organizations in the United States working to close the digital divide:
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