Posts Tagged ‘ #OWD09 ’

The Internet’s benefits still offline for many

Study the digital divide, as I’m doing this semester, and you inevitably come across a number of boorish commentary pieces  making the claim that the digital divide is dead. Just about anyone who wants to has Internet access these days, the argument goes, so what once may have been a legitimate issue 10 years ago is now an outdated cause trumpeted only because journalists are too lazy to find a new tech issue.

Thankfully Elon students (well at least the ones who take advantage of free coffee and donuts) haven’t fallen into that line of reasoning. As a way to raise awareness for One Web Day this morning, my class surveyed several dozen students at the weekly college coffee on campus, asking their thoughts on how many people have Internet access in North Carolina and around the world. As the results of the survey show, the most popular answers were the correct choices — only 61 percent of North Carolinians and 25 percent of people around the world are able to log onto the networks bloggers like us take for granted.

The global figure remains low despite major increases (500 percent or more) in Internet use in Asia, the Middle East and Africa during the past decade. Take a look at all the stats and you’ll see there’s a long way to go before the divide is bridged between those plugged in and those still disconnected. Developing countries already have a host of barriers — many political or cultural — keeping them from reaching economic prosperity. A citizenry unable to use networks that are now essential lifelines for any large business severely handicaps that nation’s prospects.

And bare-bones Internet access is only scratching the surface of the issue. Even in North America, where the figure is a more robust 74 percent, there’s a wide disparity among connection speeds, a real problem as anyone using dial-up knows all too well. Others counted as users only have access at work, school or in libraries, restricting them from leveraging the Internet’s full potential. And then there’s the regular “users” who lack the knowledge and computer skills to do much more than just browse the web. They also stand to fall behind professionally without the right training.

It’s these disparities that we have to keep in mind when thinking about the Internet. Access isn’t as free and easy as we might like to think, and connecting is just the first step.