Amartya Sen revolutionized the concept of human development by presenting his capability approach. From his point of view, it is not enough to have physical access to resources, but, in addition, one must be able to put them to the benefit of oneself. This step from objective choice to subjective choice has been completed in recent years with a third stage of development: effective choice. According to that, it is not enough to have resources, or to want or know how to use them, but, moreover, it is necessary that one is allowed to do so. Indeed, it is the strengthening of democratic institutions what has recently been at the center of debates around human development and, by extension, social inclusion.
In a digital world, in the Information and Knowledge Society, it is easy to establish comparisons between these three stages of development with the three digital divides that have been identified since the term made its fortune in the mid-1990s.
- The first digital divide is one that refers to access (or lack thereof) to technological infrastructures. A gap that, although persisting, will soon be residual as economies achieve certain income thresholds.
- The second digital divide refers to skills, the so-called digital literacy. A gap that schools, libraries and telecentres have been tackling as a priority for some years.
- The third digital divide, which adds up to (and does not replace) the former two, refers to the strategic use of ICTs to improve one’s life. We speak of online education, e-health or technopolitics, to mention only three cases where this gap is already more than patent.
This third gap, opened relatively recently, is quickly widening with the increasing presence in our lives of teleassistance, online training or political participation through social networks and spaces of deliberation, etc.
Therefore, social inclusion, and by extension the active exercise of citizenship, will increasingly depend on that third level e-inclusion, which enables a development based on full objective, subjective and effective choices.
It is likely that there will be no democracy, health or education without the active participation of citizens in these aspects.
Available data tell us that while the first digital divide is getting smaller and smaller, the second (skills) is increasingly important (especially in relative and qualitative terms: there are no more people, but they do see themselves as more digital illiterates) and, consequently, it contributes to enlarge the third one, that in many cases ends up with a flat rejection to everything that has to do with digital technology.
The so-called digital refuseniks are a group generally neglected when it comes to addressing social inclusion policies, with the probable outcome that they will be the great excluded of a society that, today, is building heavily on digital participation.
In an age of participation, engagement, co-building, it is to expect that there will be no greater active exercise of citizenship without greater and better use of the Internet; and there will be no greater and better use of the Internet if the problem of effective use of the Net is not addressed beyond physical access to infrastructures and beyond digital literacy.
As it has been stated above, there are three areas — health, learning and democracy — that are today the three most important areas (besides economic, often determined by the three previous ones) where social inclusion will be determined especially by the respective degree of e-inclusion of a given person… or an institution.
The recent achievements that have come from social innovation, open innovation and open social innovation are virtually inexplicable without that desire for an emancipated citizenship enabled by ICTs.
If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:
Peña-López, I. (2016) “What is social inclusion today?” In ICTlogy,
#159, December 2016. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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