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On Digital Divide – ‘The’ new face of Inequality

Note: In this post, I have used APA style citation due to certain unavoidable reasons.

For the past few weeks, I have been here in a remote village – and I mean it when I say ‘remote’. The village is 300 kms from the nearest metropolitan city, 100+ kms from the nearest railway station, 30 kms from the District headquarter, and 15 kms from the nearest National Highway (that’s the nearest road, you can say – the 15 km road till the NH is less of a road and more of a walking trail).

The positives, however, in addition to the breath-taking greenery and scenic hills, are quite a few. The village has got an electricity connection since past 15 years, and now almost everyone in the village has an electricity connection to their houses. The village got its first Public Service Centre (Jan Seva Kendra) a few years back and it's working fine to avail some of the benefits of e-governance to the villagers. Majority of the youth do have access to the internet and do use it regularly, thanks to the low-priced packs of BSNL Orissa.

Few days back, I needed some household equipment, and habitually opened Amazon – only to realise most of the sellers do not deliver to this place. I switched sites, across Flipkart, Snapdeal, and a lot more – only to get the same disappointment everywhere. And it was then when it occurred to me – ‘Digital Divide’ is not just a policy buzzword, it’s a reality that can be seen in the remotest of the villages and smartest of the metros, from the richest of the Indians to the poorest of the localities.

The Digital Divide – what?

In the wake of the recent technological advancements, most of our lives have taken a digital turn – for better or for worse – and many aspects of our daily lives have been in some way or other affected by Information technology. Information Technology, inter alia, has revolutionised the way ideas were communicated, transformed organisational interactions and management, introduced new contours of privacy and free speech, reshaped both work and leisure, shaped economies, jobs, and industries and a lot more.

However, the changes have not been uniform – the fruits of revolution have not been equitably distributed. Everyone has not been uniformly endowed with information technology and the immense power that it unlocks – and since technology is not just a reward but also a tool, for paving way for further development – the factors that caused non-uniform distribution of computing resources in the first place have been deepened between those with access to technology and those without (OECD). In short, information technology has ‘split the world more deeply between winners and losers’.

Digital divide is generally referred to as the gap between people who have an active access to the internet and people who do not (Basu, 2012). The ‘gap’ that’s being talked about here means ‘inequality’, primarily, and can mean all types of them – starting from social to economic to personal and psychological. Seemingly simple, the digital divide is in fact one of the most multifaceted inequality that you can witness in an increasingly globalising world.



Just another form of inequality?

Is the Digital Divide ‘merely’ another form of inequality? ‘Merely’ would not be the appropriate word usage here, if we analyse the consequences and implications thereof! The internet has obviously amplified plethora of human capabilities – and vices as well.

This ‘gap’ – the Digital Divide – is important because of its interrelation with other forms of inequalities that statistical studies have shown. Digital divide has been found to have a number of different dimensions including that of physical access, economic status and affordability, gender differences (OECD, 2018), difference in age groups, geographical location, skills (Deursen & Mossberger, 2018), and even education level of users (OECD).

Statistics has shown that certain segments of the predefined notions of various socio-economic classes are more likely to be deprived of having an effective and regular access to internet and allied services – the elderly, the rural population, the female members, the uneducated, to cite a few examples (UNDP, n.d.).

In our story, the Digital Divide is a powerful villain primarily because of two reasons: first being, it is reflective of the already existing socio-economic inequalities, and it does the job of further deepening those existing inequalities. It further increases the gap between those who have an active access to the innovations, and those who do not (OECD, 2001).

Secondly, the ever-increasing emphasis on protecting intellectual property usage in the recent years has acted detrimentally when it comes to economic equality, and has significantly contributed to the contours of this gap in socio-technological sector. There exists an inherent and indispensable interrelation between technology transfer, social inequality, and the digital divide; and the inconsiderate IP policies only strengthen this interrelationship.

The ‘gap’ isn’t just a word!

Technology is a two-edged sword, more often than not, and this is no different a case. Most breakthrough technological innovations are ambivalent in terms of capabilities – they are useful both in bridging the gap, and also deepening the gap as well. The deciding factor here is the policy – policy can make a technology bridge the gap, or deepen the gap. However, more than policy, significance can be attributed to public awareness, and social ethics.

‘Digital divide’ isn’t just a policy jargon or a socio-economic buzz word – it’s a burning issue that matters, and demands focused attention and study. Digital divide, as an issue, matters because of its far-reaching implications. In the wake of visions and dreams of a ‘Digital India’, policy framing in the light of these alarming issues are the only way forward if we dream of an India with liberty and equality at its forefront; an India ‘where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls’ (we must admit, Tagore dreamt really futuristic!).


Bibliography

Basu, S. (2012, June). Concept of Access and the Digital Divide.
Deursen, A. J., & Mossberger, K. (2018, June). Any Thing for Anyone? A New Digital Divide in Internet-of-Things Skills. Policy & Internet, pp. 122-140.
OECD. (2001). Understanding the Digital Divide. Retrieved from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: http://www.oecd.org/internet/ieconomy/1888451.pdf. (Last accessed on 29 April 2019, at 8:50 PM IST)
OECD. (2018). Bridging the Digital Gender Divide. OECD.
OECD. (n.d.). Bridging the Digital Divide. Retrieved from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: https://www.oecd.org/site/schoolingfortomorrowknowledgebase/themes/ict/bridgingthedigitaldivide.htm. (Last accessed on 1 May 2019, at 7:47 PM IST)
UNDP. (n.d.). Human Development Reports. Retrieved from United Nations Development Programme: http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports. (Last accessed on 30 April 2019, at 7:15 AM IST)


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