What is the digital divide?

During the early years of the Internet it has been likened to the movable type of printing press. This is an important comparison because the printing press led to a communication and information revolution. Before the paper, ink and the press, information and stories could only be handed down orally, painted and hand written. The advent of the printing press enable humanity to slowly mass produce books, pamphlets and bulletins. It was a form of democratizing information and stories since more and more people began to have access to information and stories.

The influence of mass produced books, news and pamphlets could not and should not be discounted because without it Shakespeare would not have become popular, Copernicus could not have spread his theory on heavenly bodies and Christians would not have been able to evangelize the word without their bible. At the least it made the sharing and transferring of information and knowledge easier.

Internet and digital technology is doing now what the printing press, the telephone and the telegraph has done to revolutionize publishing and communication. At present anyone using the Internet and digital technology can create, share, comment on, change content and communicate regardless of time difference and geographical location.

A person I met years ago compared this information phenomenon to the miracle of five loaves and two fishes. Through the Internet and digital media one could replicate the afore mentioned miracle but not on fishes and loaves of bread but on digital information and media. Provided though that one has three essential things:

First, One must have a gadget that would allow you to connect and create through the Internet.

Second, One must have Internet connection itself.

Third, One’s internet connection must be stable and fast enough to create, upload, view and interact with content.

Given the revolutionary affect and effects of the internet and digital technology it is still an unequal world. In relation to this it is most glaring in terms of what is called the Digital Divide. But what is the Digital Divide?

The Digital Divide

The Digital Divide are a set of divisions in humanity or more specifically in a country based on the use or lack of use of the Internet and Digital Technology. These set of divisions can be grouped into three and often can be related to one another. Before we proceed it should be noted that these groupings are not clear cut and there are exceptions.

First, The Digital Native and the Digital Immigrants

Digital Natives are those who were born in the Internet and digital technology age and in general they have been made familiar by being exposed or immersed in digital technology and the Internet. On the other hand a Digital Immigrant are those who were born before the advent of the Internet and have become early technology adaptors.

In a sense this divide is superficial because of the learning curve, reluctance and acceptance of technology is individual and not necessarily age dependent. Sometimes people assume that a digital native is very tech-savvy while a digital immigrant is not, but this is not the usual case. And, t would be foolish to assume or stereotype a person whether he or she is a digital immigrant or digital native.

Second, The Digital Rich and the Digital Poor

This is the more critical digital divide because it is based on the financial capacity of an individual to do the following: (I) Buy a gadget; (ii) Buy Internet access; And (iii) buy a reliable, stable and fast Internet access.

This is why in the Philippines those with the funds can possibly get a faster and better gadget and a faster and more stable Internet access. Also, this is the reason why Internet speed and stability is stratified from those who can get fast and stable Internet to those who can only get Internet by sachet or pre-paid Internet connection. Although there are news that even those who pay more do not get stable and fast connection but that is another issue — in particular a consumer and a human right issue.

The divide between the digital rich and the digital poor has caused two more groupings of the digital divide.

Third, The Digital Skilled and the Digital Unskilled

Due to the lack of funds and opportunities there is also a discrepancy in terms of digital skills. This is of course further complicated by the learning curve and reluctance of the individual resulting in a difference of digital skills. Of course , Such skills and knowledge can be gained formally or by self-learning and even on the job-training; People have overcome financial challenges in order to become digitally skilled. Not all though are as fortunate or lucky and as such financial capacity is consistently still a challenge that has to be overcome by the majority.

The Digital Divide in the Philippines

The Philippines has been described as the social media capital of the world and perhaps rightly so but what does it really it mean and is it the truth?

The percentage of a country’s population that can and has access the Internet is called the Internet Penetration Rate; while the percentage of that population that uses social media is called the Social Media Penetration Rate.

At present the Philippines has an Internet Penetration Rate between 47 to 50% while the Philippine Social Media Penetration rate is approximately in the 90 to 95%. At a population size of 120 million this means optimistically that 6 out of 12 Filipinos do not have access to the Internet and nearly the same 6 people that can connect are on social media. (Note: For the 47 to 50% Internet penetration rate — the lower figure comes from live web stats.)

The increase of the Internet penetration rate was and is still due to the affordability of gadgets, brought about by the boom of computer, tablet and smartphone technology. Important or cornerstone technology associated with the increase were the Apple Ipads and Android devices.

The Importance of the Digital Divide

What is the importance of the Digital Divide and why do we need to be familiar with it?

First, It is important to be aware that not all Filipinos are connected to the Internet.

Second, No matter how promising and beneficial the Internet is one important factor to avail of it is financial capability or money.

Third, The Digital Divide is closing because of the boom and drive of technology. In other words that drive to make profit by getting more consumers has helped in bridging this divide.

Fourth, However, Despite this boom, It is my opinion that there is a need to be more proactive to close the digital divide particularly between the digitally skilled and unskilled.

Fifth, One of the impacts of the eventually closing of the digital divide would be a more diversified Philippine Internet Community.

Sixth, This diversity will and has led to a clash of cultures between the different groups (social, ethnic, cultural, religious, economic, political, age and orientation groups). The Philippine Internet will and actually cease to be just our group.

Seventh, As netizens we should be aware of this cultural diversity and become adept to the consequences of the increasing diversity of the Philippine Internet, without giving up on our digital rights, which is the same rights we enjoy off-line.



This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).