Understanding the Digital DivideJune 1, 2022 8:29 am
The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated many issues in our country including inequities in healthcare, access to food and jobs, and connectivity via a computer and the internet. These issues have been evolving over the last few decades only to have a harsh spotlight shown upon them during the last two years.
Our goal in this blog is to focus on the inequities in access to computers (in particular the internet) and vital computer skills needed to survive in today’s economy, known as the “Digital Divide.”
What Is the Digital Divide?
Initially, the high cost of computers in the late 1990s and early 2000s created a barrier between those who could afford a computer and those who could not. That is one component of the digital divide that still exists today.
As computer prices have dropped over the years, more and more people have been able to gain access to a device in their homes. Unfortunately, not all homes have computers or access to the internet. Nor do all Americans have the skills needed to competently gain access to employment that requires such use/skill.
Therefore the definition of the digital divide has evolved. According to TakingITGlobal, “the digital divide now encompasses the ability, both technical and financial, to make full use of the technology available, taking into consideration access, or lack of access, to the internet.”
Impacts on Society
Students & Learning Impact
During the pandemic, many schools went completely remote requiring students to “go to school” online using video conferencing. This was an immediate problem for many communities that still do not have widespread internet access. Remote students who did not have access to proper technology or the internet connection faced major challenges in learning.
It was shown that the digital divide has its most direct impact on K-12 students in communities of color, which can lead to long-term negative consequences. Studies completed by Pew Research show that there is a huge divide between higher-income homes with access to the internet and lower-income homes that have limited access.
According to 2021 Pew Research, roughly six-in-ten adults living in households earning $100,000 or more a year (63%) report having home broadband services, a smartphone, a desktop or laptop computer, and a tablet, compared with 23% of those living in lower-income households. That lower level of access means not only less chance of being able to learn remotely, but a decrease in digital literacy which is critical as a skill in the workforce.
National Economic Growth Impact
Without access to the internet or digital literacy skills, the gap between those who have high-speed internet access and those who don’t will continue to widen.
A recent McKinsey & Company report estimates a negative national economic impact. The report suggests that there will be a GDP loss of $173 billion to $271 billion per year by 2040 if learning gaps aren’t addressed.
These numbers show that, as a country, it is in our best interest to take action to bridge this digital gap.
On an individual level, there will also be economic impacts. Those who have fewer skills in digital literacy or access to the internet, or proper technology will have fewer employment opportunities, possibly lower household income, and access to healthcare, particularly in regards to telemedicine.
Now that we understand a little more about what the digital divide is and how it can impact adults and students, it is time to start thinking about practical ways to close the divide and allow all Americans access to the skills and internet access they need to succeed. To read further on closing the digital divide go to the Harvard Business Review and their detailed coverage on “How to Close the Digital Divide.”