In today’s society everything seem to be embedded in media communication technology especially computer technology and the Internet. Societies rely on the Internet for different purposes; it can either be for education or even to fulfill their personal needs. Most advertisement are found in the Internet, therefore any information that people need they can access it through the Internet. Internet has become an important source of information and it is also where people can market their ideas or even find jobs. Most jobs in industries involve computer technology; therefore people have to learn how to operate computers in order to obtain highly paid positions. Without skills, access to computer technology and the Internet can be a disadvantage. Due to the fact that computer technology and Internet is so important to people, digital divide become the key issue in today’s society. The purpose of this essay is to discuss the digital divide, its impact on the democracy and the government of South Africa.
Digital divide can be defined as the gap between those who do and those who do not have access to computer technology, the Internet and the ability or skills to use them (Van Dijk 2005:1). The emergence of the term emerged in the mid-1990s after the growth of the Internet (Whalley 2007:70). Digital divide is a long term problem that will mark all future information societies. Digital divide segregate the society into two parts, which is the haves and have-nots. “Haves” are those people who are from the top or upper class, they are perceived as living comfortably and capable of obtaining a vast range of resources, including those that allow them to take part in the digital revolution (Mack 2001:36). On the other hand, the “have-nots” are those people who are from the lower class; they are viewed as living in unstable environments piecing together meager resources just to keep roofs over their heads and food on the table (Mack 2001:36). The researcher has found that digital divide has the greatest potential to doom the have-nots to the status of permanent underclass.
According to Van Dijk (2005:3), people mainly focused on the cost and availability of computer technology and the Internet when the term digital divide first come into sight. As computer prices fall, the number of people having access to computer technology increased, therefore it shows that it is not all about the high cost of technology but also that there are certain technical skills needed, in order to operate a computer (Dijk & Hacker 2003:315). People need to have knowledge, skills and abilities on how to use information and communication technologies (ICTs). People need to have skills such as instrumental skills that enable them to operate a computer, informational skills that enable them to search and process information, and strategic skills that will help them on how to use the information effectively (Dijk & Hacker, 2003:317).
2. CAUSES OF DIGITAL DIVIDE
2.1 Income difference
Income difference is the most important factor for physical access, although it strongly correlates with education, employment status and occupation (Van Dijk 2005:50). The amount of money that people earn determines what they will afford to buy. For example people who earn more income are more likely to own computers, Internet connections and smart phones. Moreover they are able to feed their families. On the other hand, for people who earn less income it could be a luxury to buy things like computers and smart phones (González 2003:5). They only afford to buy basic things for their families.
Gender differences in relation to technology start very early in life. Parents often buy technical toys for boys while girls are given dolls. The boys always help their fathers with technical things for example when fixing cars. “This progress in adulthood, where males are able to appropriate the great majority of technical and strategically important jobs and, in practice, keep females out of these jobs, whether they are conscious of this fact or not” (Van Dijk 2005:11). Females are said to be less technical and this is just due to the stereotype that have been there in societies before feminism evolved. According to (Van Dijk 2005:80), young women are almost equal to men in mastering these skills, in particular when they have learned them at schools. The researcher has found that the gap is decreasing as more woman become interested in information technology.
Most of the educated people own computers than less educated people. This is due to the fact that educated people know how to use computers; they have the skills and knowledge that they have achieved at schools. The researcher has found that educated people tend to adopt new products earlier than less educated people (Huang & Chen 2010:251). In order to use computer technology and the Internet individuals need to know how to read and write. The language that is used in most computers and the Internet is English, of which it is the second language for most of the developing countries, therefore without education there is no how they can know how to operate a computer.“Lack of education influences many people and does not allow them to access certain information sources that are only reachable via digital technologies” (Huang & Chen 2010:251).
There is a huge difference between young and old people when it comes to the skills, knowledge and ability to use computer technology. Older people strongly lag behind in material access, as they lack material resources; this means that they do not have enough income to buy things like computers. They also lack mental resources which are technical knowledge and skill; moreover older people have no interest and hobby (González 2003:6). This is due to the fact that old people did not grow up in the age of push-button media. People older than 35 or 40 years rarely have had any experience with computers at schools (Van Dijk 2005:80). The researcher has experienced that old people do not seem to be interested in computer technology; they think that it can make their lives insignificant. They do not believe in the media like young people. “Children and young people have much more manual and technical skill in working with keys or buttons and visual interfaces than do older people” (Van Dijk 2005:79). The speed of young people’s operations is much higher, due to the fact that, they have access to computers and Internet at school and household. The availability of computers and Internet at home and school enable them know more about technology, therefore being able to teach their parents, instead of parents teaching the children.
The largest and most noteworthy differential is developing between whites and blacks, two groups that have been divided on myriad bases throughout the course of history (Mack 2001:6). Thus, in many respects, it is as if this historical divide is simply repeating itself on the technology landscape. Black households are far less likely than white households to own personal computers and have Internet access (Korupp 2004:409). The blacks have always been disadvantaged throughout history, they were not given the opportunity to be educated, and instead they became slaves for the whites. Due to this, they were not able to have access to computer technology and Internet. The gap continue to grow even today because children from whites families are taken to private schools which they have access to computer technology and Internet, while children from blacks families are sent to public or inferior schools where there are no computers at all.
Computers and Internet could be important resource for people with disabilities, especially for those who have difficulty in walking and hearing, but in fact, this group is less likely than the population as a whole to use computers or the Internet (Korupp 2004:410). A prime material access problem for people with disabilities is that the available technical and software solutions to various disabilities like vision, hearing and typing are very expensive”(Van Dijk 2005:61). Due to the fact that the available technical and software solutions for various disabilities are expensive the gap seems to remain the same, it is not easy to close it especially in developing countries and on the side of the blacks.
Rural areas lag behind urban areas when it becomes to developments, therefore in most rural areas there is no electricity especially in developing countries. Business departments do not want to lay their businesses in rural areas because they think that it will not bring them any profit, due to the fact that mostly only old people live in rural areas, who are not interested in technology (Labrianidis & Kalogeressis 2006:24). This makes rural areas to lag behind urban areas in terms of technology. Rural areas compared to urban areas generally experience lower levels of connectivity. People in urban areas have more access to computer technology and the Internet because most developments are set in cities and also most of the people especially young people stay in cities, therefore can make use of the technology and the Internet.
Democracy is also a factor effected by the digital divide since it may be easier for those with the benefit of technology to take part in elections and making decisions than those without.
Economic growth is effected by the digital divide because productivity improvements tend to be associated with the use of Information technologies and companies with these technologies may have advantage and can compete better.
Digital divide is a serious issue facing the society and it can never be solved completely rather it can only be minimized. The researcher has found that providing people with information communication technology could not help in bridging digital divide, instead people need to be educated in order to have technical skills for operating the computer. Ever since capitalism evolved, the society has never been equal; therefore the divide will never be closed completely, there will always be inequality. Even though the government can help with free computers and digital literacy, some people especially in old people will not be interested in studying computers, as they will see it as wasting their time.
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