Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The motivation behind overcoming the digital divide might be broken down into three reasons: so that people can:
1. gain skills necessary for jobs, especially higher-paying jobs
2. access information more easily and that they could not otherwise
3. participate in society, nationally and globally (provide information in addition to just accessing information)

These reasons are in order of attainability -- one must be achieved before two, etc., because if someone does not have adequate skill with computers they will not be able to access information or participate. Accessing information is not necessarily gained immediately with computer skills though, because a person might still have no access to the Internet, or very restricted access (as at work, for example). Beyond access to information is the provision of information, or participation, and this would require greater skill and support than mere access (ex. a more reliable Internet connection, web design skills and software, leisure time).

In the recent report, economic factors are shown to play a major role in the digital divide. People with lower incomes do not tend to have computers, and this may be because they cannot afford a computer, or because they are not typically trained on computers at work. Because people with low incomes are several times more likely to get a computer at home if they use one at work compared to people who do not use computers at work, it is apparent that having some experience and skill with computers is important to encouraging more people to get computers at home.

This order in goals and the connection between having some computer experience and bridging the divide shows that the focus of efforts to reduce the digital divide should be first on skill-building and providing opportunities to gain experience with computers and the Internet. Using computers in schools, then, is helpful, as are free workshops in public libraries and targeted programs like Plugged In.

Judging by the most recent survey, it seems that the U.S. is on its way to achieving the first goal, though efforts should still be focused on providing computer skills. The second goal might be helped if we made Internet access a utility, like phone service. This would be ideal for insuring that most people could access information, but providing more public access would be a help, even if it would not allow people to access all the information they wanted (ex. banking information from public workstations might not be safe). If people are restricted to public workstations, it is likely that the third goal -- participation via the Internet -- would be insignificant. In order to participate in a meaningful way on the Internet, people would need more time than is often available at public workstations, and probably more software or skills.

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