Defining the Digital Divide
A recent survey of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, reported in a newsday.com article, has led some to propose a new definition of the "digital divide" - those who do and don't have a broadband connection to the Internet. The report said that 53 percent of home Internet users have residential high-speed connections, up from 21 percent in 2002. Education was the most important factor in determining whether someone would have high-speed access.
Surely there are some merits to this new definition. High-speed means more multimedia resources, so any online businesses that use such resources will want to know who is jumping the divide to enter their market. Educational institutions offering online courses will begin to thrive with multimedia communication. Who will have access and who won't will be an important issue.
The merit to these new definitions is in understanding exactly what some people will have access to that others don't. And will that enhanced access be a significant resource over and above the text information and communication, as well as basic imaging capabilities, that are already available to almost everyone online? Is faster and more better, or is this our Type-A cultural belief?
One problem is that if if we accept this new definition of the digital divide, we probably will find ourselves continually revising it as new and better technology rolls our way. Who has ultra-broadband and who doesn't? Who has an integrated domestic internet/entertainment system and who doesn't? Who has holographic projection? We might consider how these revised definitions of the digital divide could become an expression of technology competitiveness and the pressure to keep up with the Jones's.
There also is a measure of digital egocentrism in such new definitions. It's almost as if we who are online are becoming so preoccupied with who has what in cyberspace that we forget that some people don't have any kind of access, or even a computer, and perhaps don't even know what cyberspace is - the people on the other side of that very clear and broad digital divide as traditionally defined.