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Digital Inequalities: Digital Divide/Participation Gap

For those of us with a constant, unlimited connection to the world in our homes and in our pockets, and probably reading this from the palm of your hand, it’s difficult to comprehend the amount of people in THIS country that don’t have that ability. In cities such as Detroit, nearly half of the city is without any internet access at all, according the Detroit Metro Times in December 2017.

While its difficult to think about a country as developed as the United States to have such large amounts of people with no access to the internet, this is a kind of tangible digital divide most of us can wrap our heads around—the first level of digital divide. But there is so much more. The academic literature is just now scratching the surface of the complexities in this issue.

There are a whole new set of digital inequities social scientists have yet to flush out. Take mobile-only divide for example. This is where certain groups can only afford their smart phone service, including data caps and screens unable to see certain sites properly. On top of these costs, these populations cannot afford broadband in the home as well.

K-12 students are severely affected by this divide. How can students complete homework assignments when the internet is required to complete it when they don’t have access in the home. Imagine typing out entire college essays on a cell phone screen. The lack of access feeds into other parts of the students’ lives as well.

Knowing how to expertly work a cell phone will not prepare young people for the media skills and appropriate media literacy (second level digital divide) necessary for the job market. In a Huffington Post article, media and information policy professor, William Dutton explains how phones cannot take the place of computers:

“Bridging the digital divide isn’t just about providing cheap, fast internet. Computer access

matters, as Dutton explained. And tools aren’t that useful if students aren’t taught how to use


So much of this divide is about education, or lack thereof. There are connections in the research, included this week’s readings, that supports the fact that education is a major factor in the digital divide pertaining to consumption, participation, and production. There is a strong correlation between what people are doing online and when they are doing offline. We can assume that if the higher socio-economic, higher education people spend time online building their “social capital,” they are doing so offline as well.

The quality of the users’ online consumption, participation, AND production might be a factor in their offline life.

Sheeder(2017) urges researchers to look forward and focus on research around this quality in users’ online life. To do this, there also need to be an understanding of the divide in “digital skills” between demo-graphical groups.

From my personal philosophy, I believe further studies around media literacy would provide potential solutions to problems, specifically in the second and third levels of the digital divide. Intentional and clear course work in media literacy, starting a young age can not only teach the tangible skills necessary for young people to be competitive in the workforce, but students can also get the chance to understand the importance of social capital, offline AND online.

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