The New Digital Divide

The expression “digital divide” dates back to mid-1990s and refers “to the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities” (OECD, 2001, Understanding the Digital Divide, OECD Publications, Paris, p.5).

For more than two decades, scholars and policy makers have discussed the digital divide in terms of inequalities between people who could benefit from digital resources, and people who do not have these opportunities and skills. The concept of “digital divide” has been used to describe the technology gap between rich and poor populations and individuals; to depict disparities in technology access between young and senior people; to capture inequalities in ICT usage between people living in cities and in rural areas, between the educated and the uneducated, between low and high income countries.  It was nice, but now it’s over. This was the past; a new digital divide is rapidly progressing.

According to the last OECD survey, young people all over the world have roughly equal access to the Internet, no matter whether they are rich or poor, educated or not. Yet, what changes it is how they are using the Internet. While richer teenagers, and teenagers living in richer countries, tend to use the Internet to search for information and to read news, poorer teenagers, and teenagers living in poorer countries, prefer to chat, play video games, or surf Facebook. Moreover, disadvantaged students spend more time on line than advantaged students, in such a way inverting the conventional wisdom about the “digital divide”: the socio-economic disadvantaged are those who are more often online  ( continue)