Globalization and the Digital Divide

This chapter reviews the role that information technologies have had in the globalization of our world. As you read, pay attention to the many positive and negative changes that globalization has brought.

A New Understanding of the Digital Divide

In 2006, web-usability consultant Jakob Nielsen wrote an article that got to the heart of our understanding of this problem. In his article he breaks the digital divide up into three stages: the economic divide, the usability divide, and the empowerment divide.

  • Economic divide. This is what many call the digital divide. The economic divide is the idea that some people can afford to have a computer and Internet access while others cannot. Because of Moore's Law, the price of hardware has continued to drop and, at this point, we can now access digital technologies, such as smartphones, for very little. Nielsen asserts that for all intents and purposes, the economic divide is a moot point and we should not focus our resources on solving it.
  • Usability divide. Usability is concerned with the fact that "technology remains so complicated that many people couldn't use a computer even if they got one for free". And even for those who can use a computer, accessing all the benefits of having one is beyond their understanding. Included in this group are those with low literacy and seniors. According to Nielsen, we know how to help these users, but we are not doing it because there is little profit in doing so.
  • Empowerment divide. Empowerment is the most difficult to solve. It is concerned with how we use technology to empower ourselves. Very few users truly understand the power that digital technologies can give them. In his article, Nielsen explains that his and others' research has shown that very few users contribute content to the Internet, use advanced search, or can even distinguish paid search ads from organic search results. Many people will limit what they can do online by accepting the basic, default settings of their computer and not work to understand how they can truly be empowered.

Understanding the digital divide using these three stages provides a more nuanced view of how we can work to alleviate it. More work needs to be done to address the second and third stages of the digital divide for a more holistic solution.