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The digital divide refers to the gap between people who possess regular access to technology, (such as computers and their related functions like ability to get on the Internet), and those who do not have this access. The term originated in the 1990s and was much used in early days by the US President Clinton’s Administration to discuss what could be done about bridging this gap. There are many ways to look at or consider the digital divide. For people like President Clinton, the divide separated the “haves and have-nots” within the US. Other people evaluate how a perceived divide may affect countries, populations, or races.
Internet and computer use has undoubtedly increased in the United States and the digital divide may be smaller within certain populations. However, it remains a fact that poorer people may not be able to afford technology, and poorly funded schools aren’t always able to offer regular use of technology to their students. In contrast, students in middle class and upper class families, and in schools that have medium to excellent funding, may have technology at home and school. This gives them considerable advantages over those whose homes and schools don’t have the same offerings.
Another point of concern in the US is the way access to technology may divide large minority groups from Caucasians. Smaller percentages of African American and Hispanic citizens regularly use or have access to information technology. Since there exists so much possible benefit of learning how to use computers and how to take advantage of web materials, one argument is that the digital divide keeps people in certain social groups poor and ignorant to a degree. The Reverend Jesse Jackson referred to it as an apartheid of sorts.
As significant as the digital divide may be in countries like the US or Canada, the differences between access to technology in these countries and in most developing nations is even more striking. Even heavily industrialized nations like China have far fewer people able to regularly use computers and access the Internet. Poorer nations are divided even more from richer nations in this respect, and many argue that the wealth of information available to poorer nations through the Internet could help improve lives and put an end to poverty.
To this end there are many charitable and government run organizations that help to shrink the digital divide by providing computers or funding to get computers to individuals or educational institutions. They may address the divide in a specific country that is developing too. However, this can be problematic. In countries with severe poverty, many feel that first efforts should go toward providing clean water, medical care and food as needed instead of giving people technology access. Moreover, in areas that don’t have electricity sources, digital materials can be relatively useless, and some argue trying to end the digital divide in extremely poor countries may not be possible until these countries achieve certain quality of living standards.