Beyond Digital Divide: Toward an Agenda for Change

Beyond Digital Divide: Toward an Agenda for Change

Neil Selwyn (University of London, UK) and Keri Facer (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-699-0.ch001
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This chapter discusses how digital exclusion continues to present a serious and significant threat to the successful establishment of developed and developing countries as ‘information societies.’ Based on a review of recent research and theoretical work, the chapter considers a number of different reasons why digital exclusion remains a complex and entrenched social problem, highlighting the need to recognize the mediating role of economic, cultural, and social forms of capital in shaping individuals’ engagements with ICT. From this basis, the chapter proposes a hierarchical framework of digital exclusion based around conceptual ‘stages’ of ICT use. Using this framework, the argument is made that policymakers, technologists, and other information society stakeholders face a considerable challenge to match the social affordances of ICTs with the everyday needs, interests, and desires of individuals. In this sense, digital exclusion continues to demand a complex set of policy responses which go far beyond simply increasing levels of hardware provision and support, and then assuming any ‘gaps’ to have been ‘bridged.’ The chapter concludes by highlighting a number of possible directions for future action.
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Background: The Place Of Ict Use In Twenty-First Century Society

It is accepted by most commentators that we now live in a fast-changing ‘runaway world’ where the economic, social, cultural and political foundations of societies are being redefined on a continual basis (Giddens 2000). The much-heralded globalization of society is now apparent in a variety of forms, such as a shrinking of space, acceleration of time and reconfiguration of social relations along international lines. Although traditional structures such as the nation-state continue to play significant roles in the governance of society, their influence is increasingly being challenged by other entities such as the transnational corporation.

Most commentators also accept that this recasting of social relations is borne not only of economic, cultural and political changes but also of the changing technological world in which we are living. This is perhaps most clear in the rise of the information society and the attendant knowledge economy, where the production, management and consumption of information and knowledge are seen to now be at the core of economic productivity and societal development (Bangemann et al. 1994). Clearly, one of the key accelerators of these new forms of society and economy has been the rapid development of new telecommunications and computerized technologies over the past three decades. The global flows of data, services and people that characterize the global knowledge economy have been underpinned by information and communications technology. From e-commerce to e-government, ICTs such as the internet and other global telecommunications systems are major conduits through which contemporary society is acted out.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Access: The ability to draw upon the means with which to use ICTs: this includes the full range of ICT hardware and software required to engage with ICT-based practices; ICT-based content and services which are relevant and useful to an individual’s needs and interests; the requisite social and technical support, skills and know-how to support an individual’s use of ICT-based practices.

Digital Exclusion: The inability for an individual to make empowered and informed choice about their use or non-use of ICT-based practices. As such individuals from all sectors of society can be digitally excluded – not just those who are considered socially disadvantaged in general, or just those who make no use of ICT.

Information and Communication Technology: Information and Communications Technology (ICT) refers to a range of digital technological applications such as computer hardware and software, digital broadcast technologies, mobile telephony and, most prominently, the internet.

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