The Digital Divide

Most people living in wealthy, western countries take for granted the ease of access they have to information and communication technologies (ICT). The fact that we are surrounded by knowledge and expertise that enable us to be in multiple online environments simultaneously has blinded us from the sad reality that not everyone is as fortunate as we are when it comes to accessing information. When thinking of those less fortunate, we envision those that live in third world countries, but truth of the matter is that people living within the same country are just as susceptible to the negative effects of the digital divide. A definition of this concept can be found in Flews’ New media: An introduction (2014) where he explains this concept as “the gap between populations that have easy access to ICTs and those who remain underserved by these technologies” (p.23).

The digital divide can be divided into two sub-categories:

  1. The ‘global divide’ which relates to the differences in access to the internet and ICT’s that occur between nations,
  2. And the ‘social divide’, which refers to similar issues regarding information access, but as a means of social engagement within nations (Flew, 2014).

2000px-Internet_users_per_100_inhabitants_ITU.svg (1) LARGE

Katherine Bagchi (2005) states, “When assessed by region, Internet use is dominated by North Americans:

  • 41% of the global online population is in the United States and Canada
  • 27% of the online population lives in Europe, the Middle East and Africa
  • 20% of the online population logs on from Asia Pacific
  • 4% of the world’s online population is in South America”.

In today’s digital society, being cut off from telecommunications can have detrimental effects on an individuals potential for growth. The Pew Internet Project brings light to the shocking truth experienced in America. According to the findings, “One in five American adults does not use the internet” and “they don’t know enough about technology to start using the internet on their own” (Zickuhr & Smith, 2014). The citizens of America are experiencing a digital divide with those that live in the same country. This may come as a surprise since the country has adequate infrastructure compared to most countries. Zickuhr & Smith (2014) noted that the strongest negative predictors for internet use were being older than the age of 65, a lack of high school education, and earning a household income of less than US$20,000 per year. In addition to this, they found that respondents who chose to answer the Pew Internet Project survey in Spanish rather than English used the internet less frequently as well.

DIgital Divide Info graphic

DIgital Divide Info graphic

Growing up in a nation where I have been on the better side of the digital divide has provided me with endless opportunities to expand my knowledge of the world. However, my frequent travels to third world countries opened my eyes to the negative side of the divide. University of California, Irvine’s’ David Ganley (2005) explains that “Being on the wrong side of the digital divide means being behind in creating the technology base necessary to participate in the global economy and, thus, missing an important opportunity for economic and social benefits”. He proposes that there are five significant determinant factors that affect the adoption of Information Technologies (IT) in his ‘Global digital divide: A multi-generational country-level analysis’. These include a country’s per capita GDP, size of urban population, average education level, technology costs, and the importance of the trade sector.

In terms of my profession, marketers are primarily concerned with three things, who, when, and where. It is vital that they reach and engage the right consumer, at the right time, and in the right context. Now due to the ramifications of the digital divide, especially the social divide, marketers’ are concerned with three prominent factors, these are:

  1. Multichannel marketing,
  2. Cross channel marketing, and
  3. Real-time interactive marketing.

It has become much harder to execute such practices because people either don’t have access to the mediums necessary or they are not aware how to use it effectively (Bagchi, 2005). As you can see from the video above, digital tools have become entrenched in marketing practices; therefore, if consumers don’t have the means or the knowledge to access or transfer messages from brands then marketers’ are not able to reach their whole audience.


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