The Digital Divide and Usability

The Digital Divide and Usability

Lisa Jo Elliott (Pennsylvania State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7949-6.ch009
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The digital divide refers to the differences between people who use technology on a regular basis (technology-enabled) and those who do not use technology regularly (technology-disabled). Van Dijk describes three mechanisms that affect the use of technological resources. These are social exclusion, exploitation, and control. In addition to these three mechanisms, the technology itself may exclude potential users through the application design process. The design method used most frequently relies on convenience sampling of current users. The choices that these technology familiar users make in testing lead development teams to interaction design decisions that may exclude novice users. Several theories of technology adoption are reviewed as well as past and potential ways to address the digital divide.
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The Digital Divide

In the previous fifteen years, scholars, educators, social justice advocates, and government officials have become increasingly concerned about the Digital Divide. Van Dijk refines it in terms of their concerns:

The metaphor digital divide suggests a simple divide between two clearly divided groups with a yawning gap between them. Secondly, it suggests that the gap is difficult to bridge. A third misunderstanding might be the impression that the divide is about absolute inequalities, that is between those included and those excluded. A final wrong connotation might be the suggestion that the divide is a static condition while in fact the gaps observed are continually shifting. It is often suggested that the origins of the inequalities referred to lie in the specific problems of getting physical access to digital technology and that achieving such access for all would solve particular problems in the economy and society. (Van Dijk, 2006, p. 222)

Van Dijk (2005, 2006) notes that the inequalities originate with contact with the technology. People seem to either take to it or they do not based on a variety of factors. To compound the issue, Van Dijk suggests that TE individuals use their technological advantage to exclude others (2005). Trolling, restricting access, increasing the cost, or increasing the complexity of the technology effectively discourages TD individuals from adopting additional technology or advancing technologically.

Within developed countries, Technology Enabled citizens (TE) in the dominant group embrace technological approaches to government issues for the time savings and convenience. They continue to vote and support the modernization of local government. Van Dijk (2006) describes factors that influence full technology access. These factors include access characteristics, individual characteristics, and categorical characteristics.

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