Digital Divide and Digital Literacy approaches

We’re used to see the Digital Divide defined two ways:

  • Have vs. have not, concerning the ownership of ICT tools — a materialistic or infrastructual approach
  • Possibility of access, access to ICTs, including, sometimes, access to digital services and content — a broader approach, but still quite simple

A correct definition of digital development and e-readiness relies on an accurate definition of what digital divide is (all in all, the same thing). Forgeting what Digital Literacy is and implies is, usually, what lacks in all this concepts around the Digital Divide and a functiona empowerment of ICTs.

Here come two interesting references to add to the well known Mark Warschauer seminal articles:

Selwyn, N. (2004). “Reconsidering political and popular understandings of the digital divide”. In New Media & Society, Vol 6 (3), 341–362. London: SAGE Publications

The author starts with four main questions:

(1) what is meant by ICT;
(2) what is meant by ‘access’;
(3) what is the relationship between ‘access to ICT’ and ‘use of ICT’; and
(4) how can we best consider the consequences of engagement with ICT

and answers back proposing four categories of digital development or, as he calls it, stages in the Digital Divide:

(1) Formal/theoretical ‘access’ to ICTs and content
(2) Effective ‘access’ to ICTs and content
(3) Engagement with ICTs and content
(4) Outcomes – actual and perceived Immediate/short term consequences of ICT use. Consequences – actual and perceived

Selwyn is somehow based — it’s cited in his bibliography — in the following work:

Carvin, A. (2000). “More Than Just Access: Fitting Literacy and Content into the Digital Divide Equation”. In Educause Review, November/December 2000, 38-47. Boulder: Educause.

Where the author categorizes the different skills that allow the user to fully access and benefit from ICTs:

(1) Basic Literacy: Can I read and write?
(2) Functional Literacy: Can I put my reading and writing skills to daily use?
(3) Occupational Literacy: Do I know the basics of working in a business environment?
(4) Technological Literacy: Can I use common IT tools effectively?
(5) Information Literacy: Can I discern the quality of content?
(6) Adaptive Literacy: Can I develop new skills along the way?

In my point of view, while Basic Literacy is a must, it does not belong to Digital Literacy in a strict sense. On the other end of the classification, I’d add e-Awareness, as the ability to understand what’s happening in the world and how ICTs are changing it and, thus, how do I have to react to this. Maybe this concept is included in the Adaptive Literacy category, but I guess I’d add it as a 6th category (provided I’d didn’t include the first one, Basic Literacy).

Highly recommended reading both articles.


If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2006) “Digital Divide and Digital Literacy approaches” In ICTlogy, #35, August 2006. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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1 Comment to “Digital Divide and Digital Literacy approaches” »

  1. I think there is another important questions about digital divide: interest vs. no interest (self-interest) or even if they know or don’t know the Internet :-).

    Those items are also related to the internet drop out.

    You can check the book “Social Consequences of Internet Use: Access, Involvement, and Interaction” by Katz and Rice

    And also the research project:

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