Different Divisions: A Taxonomy and Examination of the Role of E-Government in the Digital Divide

Different Divisions: A Taxonomy and Examination of the Role of E-Government in the Digital Divide

Frank Bannister (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland) and Denise Leahy (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6106-6.ch002
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Addressing the problem of the digital divide is not, per se, a matter for e-government policy. Nonetheless, the existence of such a divide within society has a number of implications for such policy. E-government policy can also be an exemplar and/or act as a catalyst for actions in other public and private spheres. In this chapter, a five-way classification of the digital divide is proposed and the implications of each of these different forms of divide are examined. This taxonomy is then used to explore how e-government policy and practice need to be adapted to deal with the problems such a divide presents.
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Despite a large body of evidence to the contrary, many people still continue to believe in the power of information and communications technology (ICT) to drive social change in predictable and, of course, desirable ways. There is, in parallel with this, a tendency to overstate the impact of ICT in certain areas of society in the form of unjustified fears and equally unjustified expectations. The belief that desired social changes can be engineered through skillful deployment of technology has to be tempered by the fact that large segments of the community may not have access to the technology in question, but even this has not prevented a technological utopianism permeating many areas of modern thinking.

e-Government is no exception. The past few decades have supplied many examples that demonstrate the triumph of hope over experience in the ability of e-government to drive change. We are still waiting for the one-stop-shop and on-line voting. Even use of government portals, the shop window of many e-government programs, has stalled with only about 30% of the population in Europe using them (Millard, 2010). e-Government is promoted inter alia, as a means of transforming government, empowering the citizens and ushering in a new era of deliberative democracy. In this chapter, we focus on one narrow aspect of this broad agenda and ask: what are the implications of the digital divide for e-government policy? In order to do this, we propose a framework for thinking about the digital divide within society and then relate this back to e-government and in particular to e-government policy. The global digital divide is beyond the scope of this chapter, so unless explicitly stated to the contrary, all references to the digital divide are to internal divides within states and communities.

The digital divide is discussed in academic, professional and popular writing and comments under a variety of categorizations. These include north-south, developed-developing world, urban-rural, rich-poor and so on. The contemporary divide can take some unusual forms. For example, there has recently been discussion of the divide between those who use the Internet and those who can use it, but choose not to do so because of the marginal opportunity cost of leisure time (Goldfarb and Prince, 2008). Another form of divide is between those who are highly sensitive about and those who are indifferent to personal privacy. The latter two divisions are manifestations of more fundamental factors than a shortage of time, a deficiency in technological skills or lack of adequate access to the Internet. Other types of divide are more visible. An important “divide”, for example, is the lack of accessible technology for persons with certain disabilities. Whatever the underlying cause, it is often argued that a lessening of the digital gap(s) in society will have broader beneficial effects including bridging or narrowing other kinds of gaps between groups and individuals in society. The “divide” argument is more commonly presented today in terms of e-inclusion (or e-exclusion) and these terms will be used occasionally in what follows. This chapter will look at the question of the digital divide or divides and ask to what extent each of these is something that e-government policy needs to address.

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