The Digital Divides in the U.S.: Access, Broadband, and Nature of Internet Use

The Digital Divides in the U.S.: Access, Broadband, and Nature of Internet Use

Linda A. Jackson, Hiram E. Fitzgerald, Alexander von Eye, Yong Zhao, Edward A. Witt
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-699-0.ch012
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The purpose of this chapter is to describe the digital divides in the U.S. in terms of access, broadband connectivity, intensity of Internet use, and nature of Internet use. These divides hold true for both adults and youth and have far-reaching implications for both groups, as well as for society as a whole. For the most part the digital divides center around race, income, and, to a lesser extent, gender. Because the digital divides are complex and multifaceted any approach to reduce or eliminate them must also be complex and multifaceted. We suggest ways that educational, community, government, and corporate resources can be brought to bear on eliminating the digital divides.
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Since the Internet first entered the public consciousness (circa, 1995) there have been countless discussions about the digital divide, including debates about its very existence and likely persistence (Driori, 2005, van Dijk, 2005; Jackson, 2008; Pew Internet and American Life Project (Pew), 2005; National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA), 2000). Initially, the term “digital divide” was used to refer to the gap between those who had access to digital technologies, especially the Internet, and those who did not (NTIA, 2000). More recently, the term has been used to refer to the gap between those who have regular, “effective” access to digital technologies and those who do not. Thus, discussions have shifted away from physical access and toward the digital skills and literacy needed for success in the 21st Century global marketplace (Driori, 2005; Livingstone, 2003; Van Dijk, 2005).

Is there a digital divide? As we will demonstrate in this chapter, the answer to this question depends in part on how you define digital divide (Livingston, 2003;Van Dijk, 2005). We will demonstrate that the multidimensional nature of the digital divide necessitates multi-faceted strategies for closing the gap between the information haves and have nots.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Information Technology: Earlier definitions (Information Technology Association of America (ITAA)) focused on “the study, design, development, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems, particularly software applications and computer hardware.” IT deals with the use of electronic computers and computer software to convert, store, protect, process, transmit, and securely retrieve information. Today’s definitions are much broader and cell phones and videogame playing devices.

Net Generation: The generation of individuals who have grown up with computer technology and the Internet as a commonplace. The distinguishing mark of this generation is that its members spent their formative years during the rise of the World Wide Web. They usually have no memory of (or nostalgia for) pre-Internet history. Most were born after 1993.

24/7: Refers to the constant availability of technologies, especially in the home.

Visual/Spatial Skills: The ability to think and learn through visual processes; a form of nonverbal learning viewed as important in learning mathematics, science and engineering.

Technology Skills and Literacy: The skills and abilities needed to participate actively in the information age, including the skills and abilities neededto use computers and handheld devices (e.g., cell phones) effectively.

Digital Divide: The divide between individuals and groups who have access to information technology and can use it effectively and those who lack access and/or lack the skills needed to use information technology effectively.

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