The Worldwide Digital Divide: Information Poverty, the Internet and Development
Type of work: Working Paper
Categories:Digital Divide | ICT4D
Abstract:Many hope that new media, -- particularly the speed, global reach, and interactivity of the Internet, -- will transform civic engagement and political mobilization in democracies. This process is believed to be particularly important in giving voice to the voiceless, strengthening NGOs in civic society, linking citizens with government services, and helping parties generate support among new groups in the electorate.
Certainly the Internet has changed the structure of opportunities for political actors in many post-industrial societies. Yet the evidence from established democracies, at least in the emerging years of the Internet Age, throws a skeptical light on popular claims that the Internet will automatically transform the mass basis of political activism. Studies of the US (Davis and Owen 1998; Davis 1999; Bimber 1999; Wilhelm 2000), and the EU (Norris 1999, 2000) suggest that to date use of the political resources on the web tend to reach those who are already most engaged, reinforcing their resources, but not reaching the parts of the polity that other forms of political communication fail to meet.
Before the Internet can ever play a major role in civic engagement the public needs to have opportunities to access political resources on the web. The aim of this brief discussion paper is to focus on the issue of the digital divide, particularly its global dimension and the diffusion of the new technology worldwide from Azerbaijan to Zambia.
The introduction discusses the potential of the Internet for developing societies and for reducing the familiar North-South divide. The next section then briefly maps out the diffusion of the Internet, including the distribution of the online population and Internet hosts. The conclusion discusses the main reasons for the inequalities between industrialized and developing societies, especially the role of socioeconomic development, and how international agencies like the World Bank, UNDP and ITU are calling attention to the need for government, non-profit and corporate initiatives to bridge the global digital divide, reducing information poverty, and the growing inequalities between the information-haves and have-nots.