From the Digital Divide to Multiple Divides: Technology, Society, and New Media Skills

From the Digital Divide to Multiple Divides: Technology, Society, and New Media Skills

Francesca Comunello (Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-699-0.ch032
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It is widely acknowledged that the label “digital divide” can be partially misleading, because it emphasizes a binary dichotomy (“haves vs. have nots”) and a mere technological dimension (in terms of physical availability of devices or conduits). Behind the dichotomous model, however, lie different use and adoption strategies. People cannot be described as being either in or out. Evaluating the complex relationships between technological, social, and human factors raises a number of questions, mainly related to the role of technology in social development. Moreover, we should also reconsider what is commonly meant by information and communication technology. In this chapter, I will try to introduce a multilevel model for analyzing the digital divide, focusing on effective access and new media literacy. The focus will be shifted from technology to humans. In every ICT for development project, local context and local needs should be regarded as the key factors.
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Rethinking The Digital Divide: Communication Technology And Society

Rethinking the relationship between technological, social and human factors has deep consequences on the definitions and on the theoretical framework we apply to the digital divide.

It is widely acknowledged that the label “digital divide” can be partially misleading, because it mostly emphasizes (1) a binary dichotomy (“haves vs have nots”) and (2) a limiting approach to the technological dimension (mainly focusing on physical availability of devices or conduits), and to the relationships between technology and society.

The conceptual framework offered by the digital divide can also be limiting, because it appears to focus on the “gaps” that divide specific populations, i.e. on the needs affecting the so-called “have nots”, mostly located in the globalSouth, perpetuating a western-centric perspective on development.

Consequently, a rising number of scholars are questioning the label “digital divide”, adding in their books’ titles expressions like “rethinking”, “redefining”, or “beyond” (Warschauer, 2003; Mossberger, Tolbert & Stansbury, 2003, etc.).

Others suggest new definitions, in order to better describe the multidimensional phenomena related to the increasing diffusion of ICTs, such as “digital inequality” (DiMaggio & Hargittai, 2001); or propose a new framework, a “more nuanced” lens, aiming to assume the unconnected’s point of view, under the definition of “zones of silence” (Potter, 2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Technology in Context: the adoption of definitions of ICT, and of human needs that can be addressed through it, that focus on the specific contexts they are addressing. Geopolitical, social, economical and cultural contexts, as long as infrastructure availability, have to be considered.

Real Access: once technology availability is granted, real access designates an individual’s or a population’s actual use of technology.

Enabling Technologies: technologies that enable a wide range of Information Society services, contributing to address people’s (basic) needs.

Technology Availability: the opportunity, at a micro or a macro level, to materially access technology at reasonable prices, whether at home, at work, at school or in public places (such as public institutions or commercial outlets).

Ad Hoc Technologies: technologies, user interfaces or applications that are specifically designed to better meet local needs, starting from the specific purposes of intended beneficiaries and considering their social and cultural backgrounds.

Networking Skills: the skills involved in so-called computer mediated communication, like using technology for interpersonal communication, and to articulate and manage social networks.

New media Literacy: the ability to use new media, both on the reception and on the active production sides.

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