The global disparities in access to the Internet and other information and communication technologies that propelled globalization had led to what many termed a “digital divide” between technological haves and have-nots.
A term used to describe the discrepancy between people who have access to and the resources to use new information and communication tools, such as the Internet, and people who do not have the resources and access to the technology. The term also describes the discrepancy between those who have the skills, knowledge and abilities to use the technologies and those who do not. The digital divide can exist between those living in rural areas and those living in urban areas, between the educated and uneducated, between economic classes, and on a global scale between more and less industrially developed nations.
The gap in a digital divide may exist for a number of reasons. One telling fact is that “as income rises so does Internet use […]”, strongly suggesting that the digital divide persists at least in part due to income disparities. Most commonly, a digital divide stems from poverty and the economic barriers that limit resources and prevent people from obtaining or otherwise using newer technologies.
However, research shows that the digital divide is more than just an access issue and cannot be alleviated merely by providing the necessary equipment. There are at least three factors at play: information accessibility, information utilization and information receptiveness. More than just accessibility, individuals need to know how to make use of the information and communication tools once they exist within a community.
Even though individuals might be capable of accessing the Internet, many are thwarted by barriers to entry such as a lack of means to infrastructure or the inability to comprehend the information that the Internet provides. Lack of adequate infrastructure and lack of knowledge are two major obstacles that impede mass connectivity. These barriers limit individuals’ capabilities in what they can do and what they can achieve in accessing technology. Some individuals have the ability to connect, but they do not have the knowledge to use what information ICTs and Internet technologies provide them. This leads to a focus on capabilities and skills, as well as awareness to move from mere access to effective usage of ICT.
The need of the hour is to deal effectively with bridging the digital divide and bring the benefits of new information and communications technology to serve the goal of economic and social development. Information professionals have the ability to help bridge the gap by providing reference and information services to help individuals learn and utilize the technologies to which they do have access, regardless of the economic status of the individual seeking help.