Information Society, Digital Divide, and E-Governance in Developing Countries

Information Society, Digital Divide, and E-Governance in Developing Countries

Sukaina Al-Nasrawi (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Lebanon) and Saleem Zoughbi (United Nations University, International Institute for Software Technology, Macau SAR, China)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch672
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The dynamic transformation process of the industrial society into the information society promises a fundamental change in all aspects of our lives, including knowledge dissemination, social interaction, business practices, political engagement, media, education, health, and entertainment (Buenafe, Seishi, & Robert, 2007). Many Significant differences exist in the capacity of countries to adapt to changes in technology and knowledge. Consequently, the move towards the information society constitutes a real challenge to developing countries, particularly in view of the expanding digital divide with developed countries, thereby making them increasingly vulnerable to reduction in productivity and economic capacity. This leads, in turn, to unemployment, poverty, and further marginalization. The pace of global technological and economic transformation demands urgent action to turn the present digital divide into digital opportunities for all.

A developing country or nation or other related phrases such as an emerging country refers to a country where access to high-quality research information has historically ranged from being extremely limited to altogether non-existent Some countries may be considered underdeveloped in terms of the overall quality and quantity of information available to its citizens and researchers through academic institutions, hospitals, and other research centers. It is important to note that a country’s lack of information resources is not necessarily in direct proportion to its economic wealth or lack thereof and that, there is no universal, agreed-upon criteria for what makes a country developing versus developed and which countries fit these two categories. The concept of the digital divide can be explained from two perspectives namely: the gap that exists between the countries that have full access to electronic research information and those that do not; and the difference in Internet literacy and aptitude between the citizens of developed versus underdeveloped countries (Brooks, Donovan, & Rumble, 2005). This divide is categorized (Norris, 2001) into its three constituent elements: the global divide between advanced industrialized countries and developing countries, the social divide between information rich and information poor within advanced industrialized countries, and the democratic divide between those within the online community who does and do not use digital resources to engage, mobilize and participate in public life. Relevant indicators were adapted and others were created to be used as benchmarking tools for assessing the progress achieved to bridge this divide at the national and regional levels. The importance of finding appropriate solutions to the problem of the digital divide, as defined herein, cannot be overstated. Most of the countries and regions that comprise the developing world are falling far behind the more developed nations in many areas, with education ranking among the most notable (WEF, 2013).

Since the world-wide development global initiative referred to as the Information Society initiative, adopted in the World Summit in 2005, and in tandem with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) worldwide development programs, many developing countries have moved a long way towards “bridging the Digital Divide” (UN, 2009). The changing state of affairs globally, mostly economic and social, implied tremendous changes on the way national strategic plans of countries are developed. Most of these changes integrated the new technologies. The prerequisite for applying such technologies is open and hence developing countries could benefit from this. This article examines the digital divide as a global issue with a focus on developing countries. It discusses its relation to globalization and the role of 
e-governance in leapfrogging it. This article also sheds the light on the measurement dimension of the digital divide by discussing the important metrics of the information society.

Key Terms in this Chapter

E-Governance: Governance refers to the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority in the management of a country’s affairs, including citizens’ articulation of their interests and exercise of their legal rights and obligations. E-governance may be understood as the performance of this governance via the electronic medium in order to facilitate an efficient, speedy and transparent process of disseminating information to the public, and other agencies, and for performing government administration activities. E-governance is generally considered as a wider concept than e-government, since it can bring about a change in the way how citizens relate to governments and to each other.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT): The technologies that provide access to information through telecommunications. It is similar to Information Technology (IT), but focuses primarily on communication technologies. This includes the Internet, wireless networks, cell phones, and other communication mediums. In the past few decades, ICTs have provided society with a vast array of new communication capabilities. For example, people can communicate in real-time with others in different countries using technologies such as instant messaging, voice over IP (VoIP), and video-conferencing.

Information Society: A universal definition of the information society does not really exist. Proposed definitions are often partial, and take into account only specific problems or effects. However, the information society is a phenomenon which permeates every aspect of our lives, affecting every cell of society and every sector of activity. Three elements can nevertheless be considered as constituting the basis of the information society, namely: Information and knowledge; Proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICT); and Access to and use of ICTs.

Developing Countries: Also called a less-developed country, also known as “LDC,” is a nation with a lower living standard, underdeveloped industrial base, and low Human Development Index (HDI) relative to other countries. There is no universal, agreed-upon criterion for what makes a country developing versus developed and which countries fit these two categories, although there is general reference points such as a nation's GDP per capita compared to other nations. Also, the general term less-developed country should not be confused with the specific least developed country.

Digital Divide: The Digital Divide, or the digital split, is a social issue referring to the differing amount of information between those who have access to the Internet and those who do not have access. The term became popular among concerned parties, such as scholars, policy makers, and advocacy groups, in the late 1990s.

Knowledge-Based Economy: An expression coined to describe trends in advanced economies towards greater dependence on knowledge, information and high skill levels, and the increasing need for ready access to all of these by the business and public sectors.

Marginalization: The social process by which a person or a group of people are made marginal or become relegated to the fringe or edge of society. It occurs when people is pushed to the edge of a society, usually as an effect of discrimination making the person standout and look different from everybody else. They consequently feel alone and left out from the rest of society.

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