Today’s topic talk is courtesy of Heather Linton, an Instructor of Marketing at Ithaca College (Ithaca, NY), with specific interest in the fields of tourism and digital marketing. When you get a chance, visit Heather’s site digitaldmo.com or find her on LinkedIn (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information. In her topic talk, Heather discusses the digital divide and its impact this divide has on society.
Heather, the floor is yours….
While browsing Ted.com looking for interesting examples for my marketing classes, I came across a fascinating presentation by Richard Wilkinson. (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/richard_wilkinson.html). He theorizes that within each country, income gaps (differences between the highest and lowest relative income in a society) determine the extent of many social issues. The average well being of our societies is no longer dependent on our national income; what matters is the differences between individuals within each society. The chart below shows that countries that are more equal in terms of income (like Japan and Sweden) have much lower rates of health and social problems (list on the left). Countries that are less equal in terms of income (like the USA, Portugal, and the UK) have higher rates of health and social problems. I highly recommend watching the 15-minute video to view his full talk, but I want to talk about a different issue here.
In my classes we talk briefly about the digital divide, and I began to wonder what sort of ethical impact this has on society. Since I am one of the lucky ones with very good internet access, I began researching.
First of all, in case you’re not familiar with the digital divide, it is broadly defined as “the gap between those people who have internet access and those who do not” (www.dictionary.reference.com). The PewResearchCenter (http://pewinternet.org/topics/Digital-Divide.aspx) furthers this definition, stating “Internet access is best understood as a spectrum, ranging from people who have never been online, to those who have dial-up or sporadic access, to those who have broadband at home and at work.” This could also encompass entire communities, not just individuals.
So why aren’t people online? Another Ted talk by Aleph Molinari (founder of Mexican company RIA) (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/aleph_molinari_let_s_bridge_the_digital_divide.html) gives a good 10-minute overview that is worth a watch. He brings up the point that the digital divide is a new type of illiteracy. His reasons for the digital divide are as follows:
- Can’t afford the technology
- Don’t know how to use the technology
- Don’t understand the benefits that derive from technology
The world population is nearly 7 billion, but only about 2 billion are digitally included – about 30% of the population. This means that the remaining 70% of the world, close to 5 billion people, do not have access to computers or the internet. In the map below we can see that most people with internet access are in North America and Europe, and most of the rest of the world isn’t able to broadcast themselves and share ideas and connect with others in a way that you and I take for granted.
Map from http://www.chrisharrison.net/index.php/Visualizations/InternetMap
Organizations like One Laptop per Child (one.laptop.org) and RIA (http://www.ria.org.mx/site/) have similar missions of providing internet access, training, and information to those on the lowest end of the digital divide around the world, although their strategies to reach those goals vary.
Molinari also theorizes that although our world is going through a digital revolution, 70% of global citizens aren’t able to be a part of this. They won’t be able to compete in labor markets as we move towards a more digitally based workforce. They will be less informed as information moves online, and less inspired and responsible. He argues that internet should be a right, not a luxury. It allows us to connect, it empowers us, and is a tool for change.
However, we also need to consider users domestically as well. While 93% of teens were online as of May 2010 (most recent Pew data available), only 42% of adults age 65 and older used the internet.
Chart from http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/2010/Internet-acess-by-age-group-over-time-Update.aspx
Think of all the information that adults age 65 and older would benefit from being able to find online. Healthcare and diet resources, part-time or home-based jobs, social connections for those who find it difficult to leave their homes, better relationships with their families who are already sharing their lives online, etc. Why aren’t they online? I believe for the reasons Molinari notes above – they can’t afford it, they don’t know how to use it, or they just don’t know why they should be online.
This also brings up the issue of high-speed internet being available to everyone. Many people in rural areas can’t get cable internet or DSL, and are stuck on dial-up, which certainly doesn’t provide full internet capabilities, or satellite, which is expensive and also challenging to use. This means many things, like individuals can’t accurately research purchasing or life choice options online. Rural healthcare facilities, even in the US, may not have access to information networks that would greatly benefit their staff and patients. The list goes on.
What other issues do you see related to the digital divide? Some governmental groups and NGOs are looking for solutions, but what do you think? How can you take action and reach out to your friends or family who aren’t online and help them get there?
Instructor of Marketing at Ithaca College (Ithaca, NY)