« Social Implications of Globalization as Deterritorialization. | Main | Explanation of Cyberpunk. »

Digital Divide: What it is, what its consequences are, and how can we solve it.

Although our society tends to celebrate the coming of our technological era, we mustn't forget about the ever apparent gap between people with effective means of adequate access to digital and information technology and those with very limited or no access to it. (NMC Class) It's called the Digital Divide, and it doesn't just exclude those with low income who can't afford the technology (and these aren't your envision of poor, 55% of households that make less than 50K a year do not have access), but there's location (rural areas tend to have little to no access options) and age (those who weren't born into the technological era). Obviously those with access to this blog clearly do not possess this problem (unless you are at a digital hub, library, etc.) but those who recognize it, understand the serious consequences of the Digital Divide.
Consider it a divide between the rich and poor, rich being those with the ability to access information, and poor being those without the means (monetary, age or locality) do not. With the increasing demand for newspapers and other analogous sources to move online (by monetary pressures) what happens to those left in the divide's dust? The political and social impacts are huge. First, we've effectively cut out the middle class and further distanced the gap between rich and poor (aristocracy anyone?) but we've also limited the information that the poor have access to. If there is no information for the poor to make effective life decisions, how can we honestly ask them to vote on a president, understand current day affairs or go into an interview (that they couldn't find in the classifieds online) with little to no knowledge of the company at hand? Without a computer or knowledge of it (which you don't have if you haven't dinked around on it), how does one even get a job? Can politicians effectively run online-only campaigns (think Ron Paul here)? There is after all the idea of amateurism that must be solved in order for online campaigns to run effectively. Simply put, we are oppressing a huge side of society with this divide and without society as a whole there is no way to enhance social capital in a democracy.
Luckily, few have recognized this problem, and some cities are even testing out ways to close the gap. Minneapolis, for example, has a wireless initiative for city provided wireless (with a nominal charge) However this isn't without it's problems - People have to wait forever to get online, so they need to organize what to do in an effective amount of time and it minimizes the ability to apply for jobs or just surf the web. And of course it isn't free. There's a Community Dividend in which communities and hubs can apply for a grant (Digital Inclusion Fund), but even the amount we see with that is minimal, and can be expected to decrease with the given economic situation. There's programs like One Lap Top Per Child, and free classes at community centers. However the main issues with all of these, is that (prepare for bad analogy) like our big 3 car companies, they refuse to share their technology. Why can't programs like OLPC partner with communities to offer classes on how to work your computer?
All is not bleak, though. Yes the digital divide has proven to be a worthy opponent and yes we haven't found any one way to rectify the situation, but at least the problem is recognized, and there are stepping stones in place on how to resolve the crisis. The future holds a positive outlook as long as there is a willingness to cooperate.