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The Digital Divide. The phrase “the digital divide,” coined in the 1990s, is a new label for an old concept involving information “haves” and “have-nots.” The digital divide is now used to describe the disparity between those who have access to Internet technology and those who do not.

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The Digital Divide


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    1. The Digital Divide • The phrase “the digital divide,” coined in the 1990s, is a new label for an old concept involving information “haves” and “have-nots.” • The digital divide is now used to describe the disparity between those who have access to Internet technology and those who do not.

    2. Digital Divide (Continued) • Benjamin Compaine (2001) defines the digital divide as the perceived gap between those who have and those who do not have either: • (a) access to cybertechnology, • (b) the knowledge and ability to use that technology.

    3. Digital Divide (Continued) • The digital divide exists at two distinct levels: • (i) a “global digital divide” between developed and developing nations. • (ii) a divide between groups within developed nations, based on factors such as income and education.

    4. The Global Digital Divide • In 2000, it was estimated that 429 million people (approximately 6% of the world's population) were online globally. • 68% of those online in 2000 lived in North America and Europe. • Two billion people in the world didn’t even have electricity, and in developing countries, there were roughly 69 phones for every 1000 people (2000 Human Development Report).

    5. Statistics from the2000 Human Development Report • In 2000, the developing nation of Nepal had: • approximately 35,000 Internet users in a population of 21 million people; • only 15% of houses with electricity (2000 Human Development Report).

    6. Table 10-1: Summary of Global Internet Usage (as of 2000)

    7. Some Statistics as of Nov. 2005 • Global Internet usage has more than doubled since the 2000 Human development Report. • As of Nov. 2005, it is estimated that there are more than 972 million Internet users (Internet World Stats News, 2005).

    8. 2005 Statistics (Continued) • Since 2000, the list of countries or regions where more than 50% of the population uses the Internet has grown to 30. • Seven nations now have an Internet penetration rate of higher than 60% (Internet World Stats News, 2005).

    9. Statistics as of 2005 (Continued) • The disparity between the percentage of Internet users in developed and developing countries is still significant: • In Africa, which includes 14.1% of the world’s population, the Internet penetration rate is 2.5%. • In North America, which includes only 5.1% of the world’s population, the Internet penetration rate is 68.1% (World Internet Usage Statistics and Populations Stats, 2005).

    10. The Digital Divide in the U.S. • In the U.S., discussions about the digital divide have focused on factors such as: • income, • education, • race, • gender.

    11. The Digital Divide in the U.S. (Continued) • In the 1990s, a National Information Infrastructure (NII) was proposed to ensure that all Americans would have access to information technology. • The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) conducted a series of studies on computer use among various groups.

    12. The Digital Divide in the U.S. (Continued) • Early NTIA reports confirmed that access to cybertechnology was related to socio-demographic factors. • Later NTIA reports have noted that: • (a) the rate of access to cybertechnology in the U.S. had increased overall; • (b) significant disparities still existed with respect to socio-demographic factors involving race, education, income, and marital status.

    13. Digital Divide in the US: Universal Service vs. Universal Access • The US Congress passed the Communications Act of 1934, distributing the cost for telephone service to be affordable to all Americans (i.e., providing universal service). • Telephone users still pay a universal connectivity fee, or surcharge, on their telephone bills to support universal service.

    14. Universal Service vs. Universal Access (Continued) • Should a universal service policy for the Internet also be subsidized in a similar manner? • In the case of telephone technology, it was argued that having a telephone was necessary for one’s well being. • Can the same argument be made for cybertechnology?

    15. Universal Service vs. Universal Access (Continued) • Universal service policies are controversial because they require subsidies, often resulting either in user fees or higher taxes. • Advocates of a universal service policy for the Internet note that without a government subsidy, people living in less-populated rural areas would not have been able to afford telephone service. • Critics of universal service argue that Americans already have universal access to cybertechnology (e.g., public points of access such as in libraries).

    16. The “Analog Divide” and the Public Education System • The analog divide refers to the social inequities involving haves and have-nots that underlie the digital divide. • Torin Monahan (2005) believes that in the US, an analog divide exists independently of digital technology. • Monahan argues that the current “divide” in the US is reinforced through the system of public education.

    17. The Digital Divide as an Ethical Issue • Is the digital divide is an ethical issue? • Is every kind of divide regarding unequal access to goods necessarily an ethical issue? • Skeptics might note the divide between those who have and do not have Mercedes-Benz automobiles, and that many of us fall on the “wrong side” of the “Mercedez-Benz Divide.”

    18. The Digital Divide as an Ethical Issue (Continued) • Many ethicists believe that divisions between those who do and do not have access to vital resources, such as food and healthcare, raise questions of distributive justice. • Distributive justice refers to the “just distribution” of primary goods and resources in populations.

    19. The Digital Divide as an Ethical Issue (Continued) • Is unequal access to cybertechnology similar to the “Mercedes-Benz divide”? • Or is it closer to divisions involving access to vital human resources such as food and healthcare?

    20. Is the Digital Divide an Ethical Issue (Continued)? • Jeremy Moss (2002) argues that people in developing countries who do not have access to cybertechnology are unfairly disadvantaged because:   • (i) they are denied access to knowledge; • (ii) they are unable to participate fully in democratic decision making processes; • (iii) their prospects for economic growth are hindered.

    21. Do We Have a Moral Obligation to Bridge the Digital Divide? • If Moss is correct, do we have a moral obligation to provide Internet access to those who are disadvantaged? • Some argue that while we are morally obligated to “do no harm,” we have no explicit obligation to do good—in this case, no obligation to provide Internet access to disadvantaged groups. • But is this minimalist view of morality adequate?

    22. Bridging the Digital Divide in the US: Positive vs. Negative Rights • One way in which we could frame the debate about universal Internet service in the US is to think of it as a dispute involving negative vs. positive rights. • Negative rights are like liberties in the sense that we have a (legal) right not to be interfered with in exercising them.

    23. Positive vs. Negative Rights (Continued) • If I have a negative right to own a computer and purchase Internet access, you are not permitted to interfere with my purchase and use of these items. • Can one’s legal rights pertaining to access to cybertechnology also be understood in terms of positive rights?

    24. Positive vs. Negative Rights (Continued) • We have very few positive rights. • In the US, the right to health care is a negative right because the government is not required to provide it to citizens. • In Europe and Canada, healthcare is a positive right.

    25. Positive vs. Negative Rights (Continued) • One of the few positive rights that American citizens enjoy is the right to receive a free public education through high school. • It is a positive right because the US government is required to provide each citizen with access to such an education.

    26. An Argument for Making Internet Access a Positive Right 1. Because public education is a positive right, the U.S. government must provide citizens with an education. 2. Providing an education means that the government is required (legally obligated) to supply students with the tools (free textbooks, etc.) necessary to gain an education. 3. The Internet is becoming a necessary tool for completing assignments required in the educational process. 4. Students who cannot afford Internet access at home are unfairly advantaged and will not have the same opportunities in completing their education as students who can afford to pay for Internet access. . . 5. Therefore, the US government should (legally) be required to provide home Internet access for those students whose families cannot afford to pay for it.

    27. Cybertechnology and the Disabled • The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was formed to promote standards that ensure universal Web access. • It established a Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which has produced guidelines and protocols for developing software applications that improve access for disabled persons.

    28. Cybertechnology and the Disabled (Continued) • WAI applications range from software used in speech synthesizers and screen magnifiers to proposed applications that will benefit disabilities that are: • visual, • hearing, • physical, • cognitive, • neurological.

    29. Cybertechnology and the Disabled (Continued) • WAI has established guidelines for developing “user agents” that are: • intended to lower barriers to Web access for people with disabilities. • designed to conform and communicate with “assistive technologies” such as screen readers (which perform a function similar to Braille applications in off-line contexts).

    30. Cybertechnology and the Disabled (Continued) • WAI’s advocates point out that measures taken for the disabled have had positive outcomes for other groups – for example: • poor people who often are forced to deal with literacy problems have benefited; • ramps designed for wheelchair accessibility not only benefit people in wheelchairs, but also non-disabled persons as well (such as parents pushing baby carriages).

    31. Cybertechnology and the Disabled (Continued) • Some argue, by analogy, that ordinary users will benefit from design enhancements to user interfaces intended to assist disabled persons. • There is a danger in using this kind of utilitarian argument as the main rationale, because not all enhancements may benefit non-disabled persons.

    32. Race and Cybertechnology • Three kinds of issues affecting race and cybertechnology can be distinguished: • Internet usage patterns among minority groups; • technology policies affecting African Americans and racial minorities; • how the Internet has been used as a medium to spread racial prejudice.

    33. Race and Cybertechnology Issues Affecting Usage Patterns • Tom Spooner and Lee Rainie (2000), reported that an estimated 7.5 million adult African-American users were online in 2000. • Susan Kretchmer and Rod Karveth (2001) point out that African-American users differ from their white counterparts in both usage patterns and demographic characteristics.

    34. Race and Cybertechnology Issues Affecting Usage Patterns (Continued) • Kretchmer and Karveth also note that: • the average age for African-American users tends to be younger than for whites; • African Americans typically access the Internet less frequently than whites; • adult African American Internet users are much more likely than their white counterparts to have modest incomes, no college degrees, and children under eighteen.

    35. Race and Cybertechnology Issues Affecting Usage Patterns (Continued) • Kretchmer and Karveth also claim that African-American Internet users are: • more likely to use the Internet for entertainment and for locating information about quality-of-life activities, such as job training, school, health care, and hobbies; • less likely to participate in Web-based auctions, and to use e-mail to develop and sustain friendships.

    36. Internet Usage Breakdown by Racial/ Ethnic Groups in the US (as of 2000)

    37. Technology, Race, and Public Policy • Robert Johnson (1997) believes that African American need to view themselves as “stakeholders” in policy issues affecting technology. • He examines the impact of automobile technology, or automobility, in the US on African Americans. • The construction of urban highway systems broke up inner-city neighborhoods and introduced health and safety risks.

    38. Racism and Rhetoric on the Internet • Lynn Theismeyer (1999) believes that two kinds of racist speech apply to the Internet: • (a) hate speech itself, which can include text, music, online broadcast, and images that exhort users to act against targeted groups; • (b) persuasive rhetoric that does not directly enunciate racism and corresponding violence, but which ultimately promotes or justifies it.

    39. Racism and Rhetoric on the Internet (Continued) • Theismyer examines two questions: • (i) Does information technology make the reemergence of prejudicial messages and attitudes swifter and more likely? • (ii) Does the Internet's wide range of distribution make for more followers and finally more persuasion?

    40. Gender and Cybertechnology • Three distinct kinds of issues to consider affecting gender: • 1. access issues (jobs for women in the computing/engineering fields); • 2. gender bias in video-game software; • 3. theoretical frameworks for understanding gender issues.

    41. Gender and Access Issues • Access-related issues include the “pipeline” for women entering the field of computer science (CS). • Tracy Camp (1997) notes that there has been a slight increase in the number of women getting PhDs in CS. • She also notes that there has been a decrease in the number of women getting BS degrees in CS.

    42. Gender and Access Issues (Continued) • Why don’t more women enter college degree programs in CS? • Paul DePalma (2005) dismisses the view that women do not pursue CS careers because of “math anxiety.” • Many women pursued degrees in mathematics, long before fields such as medicine and law were available to them.

    43. Gender and Access Issues (Continued) • DePalma infers that mathematics programs must have been doing something right in attracting and graduating women. • He suggests that if CS programs were more like mathematics programs than they currently are, perhaps more women would be attracted to them.

    44. Gender and Access to High-Tech Jobs (Continued) • DePalma also notes that much of the high-tech culture associated with the early days of computing was dominated by males, who: • tended to be fascinated with gadgetry and devices, as opposed to mathematics per se; • affected how programming courses were conceived of and taught.

    45. Gender and Access to High-Tech Jobs (Continued) • DePalma speculates that if course instruction in programming were designed to be as close as possible to logic and mathematics, women might find CS programs more attractive. • This might be an interesting hypothesis to test.

    46. Gender Bias in Video Games • Elizabeth Buchanan (2000) suggests that software used in designing video games can contribute to gender bias because these games often tend to: • (1) misrepresent or to exclude female characters; • (2) perpetuate traditional sexist stereotypes.

    47. Methodological Frameworks for Understanding Gender • Alison Adam (2004) argues for a “gender informed” approach to ethical issues in computing. • She believes that many studies have been based on access (e.g., “pipeline”) issues and on differences between men and women. • She endorses a “feminist ethic of care.”

    48. Methodological Frameworks and Gender (Continued) • Adam believes that a theoretical framework built on an ethic of care improves the understanding of gender issues because it: • shows why gender issues cannot be reduced to access issues based on quantitative analyses; • helps us to see that the concept of privacy can be different for men and women.

    49. Methodological Frameworks and Gender (Continued) • Adam (2005) argues that a gender-based ethics helps us to understand issues involving cyberstalking and Internet pornography in a way that traditional ethical theories cannot. • She concludes that we need a gender-informed theory for computer ethics.

    50. Employment and Work • Issues affecting employment and work in the Cyber-era can be examined in terms of two different kinds of concerns: • 1. quantity of jobs; • 2. quality of work. • Some social theorists suggest that work in the Cyber-era has been transformed.