The Digital DivideThis morning I read a write-up about the persistent gender digital divide. The term 'digital divide' usually refers to the big gap in access to and the use of the Internet and some other Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) between the rich and poor countries, or the developed and developing countries. However, these differences can also exist between people of different socio-economic circumstances even within the developed world, and also between men and women the world over.
This article discusses how women still lag behind in the use of technology, development of policy and infrastructure. Even a lot of the content available on the 'Net (pornography is a big example) is targeted exclusively at men and degrades women.
This is, unfortunately, very much true. While I was in the States, I gave a lot of thought to how less women, compared to men, are engaged with technology. I also thought about how educational and socio-economic backgrounds also played a big part in the disenfranchisement of many groups. Now that I'm back home, I see that while all these are factors in the use of technology, it feels that money (or perhaps more widely, socio-economic status) is THE biggest determinant in how likely a person is to learn about and to use ICTs. This is because access to ICTs are determined by how much spending money you have (after taking care of the basic needs) to spend on getting connected. The predominant forms of access are cybercafes and work. For the first, when you have more pressing needs, getting onto the Internet will not even feature on your priority list; for the second, not everyone works in an office where Internet access is available.
Speed is another major obstacle in how effectively one can become engaged with ICTs (this is particularly applicable to the Internet). I am actutely aware of this after spending an extremely frustrating morning trying to check my email and update my blog. If logging onto simple, text-based websites is such a headache, how can I even think about accessing the wealth of multimedia content available on the Internet? (Sigh! I miss NPR and BBC online radio so much.) Obviously, if you have money you can afford to get broadband connections, so here we are back to the issue of money. It seems that what you need is plenty of money in order to get the fastest connections out there.
This makes me even more in awe of people who manage to make the most of meagre Internet infrastructure to create websites with great and highly-usable local content; share information via personal blogs; tap into the plethora of great online learning resources, etc. It's easy to be "hi-tech" when you have so many resources at your disposal. When you use the little you have in innovative ways, well that's truly cutting-edge.