The Modern Tragedy of Digital Divides

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Many digital divides exist today both around the world and online, the most well-known one being the discrepancy between those who do and do not have access to the internet. However, digital divides exist even among people who have access to the internet. These divides can occur between different ages, races, political views, ideologies, and gender and have a huge impact on the experiences people have online and the divisiveness of online rhetoric😱.

Growing up in a relatively well off, suburban family, I have had access to the internet for virtually my entire life for the purposes of school, entertainment, and communication.  This led me to assume that everyone had access to the internet, and it was not until I became older that I realized this was not true. Around 25 percent of American do not have a subscription to broadband internet, and around five billion people worldwide are digitally excluded (Hulegaard 3).  Socioeconomic status and geographic location play huge roles in determining whether or not people can access the internet. Those who are at an economic disadvantage often do not have access to broadband internet and instead rely upon public libraries and cell phones to access the internet (Horrigan 7). Rural populations sometimes are not serviced by internet companies and might not be able to acquire broadband even if they can afford it (Scott para 2). UntitledThese are issues that I did not have to deal with, and in fact, I was unaware even existed until recently. However, one aspect of the digital divide in terms of access that I have always been aware of was the divide between age groups. Older generations are less likely to access the internet than younger generations (Woyke para 2). As a digital native, I am proficient in using the internet since I grew up with it. I have noticed that it is much harder for my grandparents and even my parents to not only adopt the internet but also learn how to use it effectively. In fact, my grandparents only used the internet for email up until a few years ago. These digital divides in access to the internet based on age, location, and socioeconomic status are not new. However, being a digital native, it is easy to be oblivious to the problems that other people have in access and using the internet.

Just as troubling is that the internet, which has the power to bring people together, seems to be a tool for further separating us. I personally encounter divides on the internet that are based on my perceived and invented online identity. As a college-age, white, Texan male, certain ads, newspaper articles, and videos are targeted towards me based on what tech companies think a college-age, white, Texan male would like. These targeted experiences use this perceived identity of a person to help personalize the experiences of users on the internet and create more interest. However, they can also limit the scope of what people see on the internet and cut them off from other online communities. For example, I sometimes get ads for things that I have absolutely no interest in, such as UT baseball, because of my perceived online identity. In addition, I will get suggestions for ultra-conservative news outlets despite preferring to read more central-leaning, unbiased news. My invented online identity does follow some of the digital divides that exist online. As a male, I prefer to use Reddit as a social media platform😎. This is in line with the trend of more women using Pinterest and more men using Reddit (Vermeren para 9). In addition, like most young people, I use social media sites like Snapchat while older people use Facebook. These digital divides amongst social media cites based on age and gender can lead to separated groups and a more segregated society😢. I have always been aware of the confirmation bias and group polarization that exists online in terms of where people choose to get their news, but I was not aware that these can still occur among social media sites and through involuntary targeting based on perceived identities and internet activity.

Bibliography

Horrigan, John B. “Recent Tech Adoption Trends and Implications for the Digital Divide.” SSRN Electronic Journal, Aug. 2012, doi:10.2139/ssrn.2031755.

Hulegaard, David. “The Digital Divide: What Works and What Doesn’t.” Academia.

Scott, Mark. “How a British Telecoms Startup Is Bridging UK’s Rural Digital Divide.” POLITICO, POLITICO, 14 Feb. 2018, www.politico.eu/article/truespeed-digital-divide-europe-broadband-fiber-telecom-rural/.

Vermeren, Iris. “Men vs. Women: Who Is More Active on Social Media?” Brandwatch, Brandwatch, http://www.brandwatch.com/blog/men-vs-women-active-social-media/.

Woyke, Elizabeth. “Korea Bridges Digital Divide.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 19 June 2013, www.forbes.com/2009/04/02/internet-broadband-korea-technology-korea-09-broadband.html#329f1cf8187c.

4 thoughts on “The Modern Tragedy of Digital Divides

  1. I really enjoy how the paper flowed and how you incorporated the small things we learned in to your personal experiences such as the false advertisements and your identity as a male. One thing I think you could expand on is how more of your personal experiences have affected how you perceive the digital divide, such as when you said that you believed that everyone has had access to the internet until recently. You could also talk about how your identity as a Texan, white male has allowed you to perceive the digital divide in your own personal way such as seeing so many different groups online or similar groups. One big thing is that given your specific history with the digital divide where do you think it has impacted you and how it would affect your future decisions, like where to work and stuff.

  2. I could definitely relate to your post about how websites can sometimes stereotype you in order to sell you something. You did a good job of tying that into the rest of your blog post because its an important, and creepy, reality of the internet. You stated, “These targeted experiences use this perceived identity of a person to help personalize the experiences of users on the internet and create more interest. However, they can also limit the scope of what people see on the internet and cut them off from other online communities.” Has there ever been a time in which these targeted experiences were actually right about you? Did they ever target to you a product that you wanted? Or a news article that interested you? It would be interesting to see how accurate or inaccurate these algorithms are. – SP

  3. I believe your paper tackles the prompt very well, you define the divides and things we have studied throughout the semester while also providing your personal identity online. I am in the same boat as you with not really being aware that many families do not have home internet access and simply thought it was something everyone had. Additionally, I like how you go into some of the websites you frequently visit, and how some of these trends result in division online between different groups. One thing I believe you could dive deeper into is any ways you saw the digital divide growing up by providing some personal examples, or even recent things you have recognized. -CRM

  4. The paper definitely spoke to me, as I share many of the same experiences as you being from a similar background. It is definitely easy to be oblivious to other’s problems with the Internet and digital technology coming from a place where most people are well-educated and have grown up or use the Internet on a daily basis. It was also good that you were able to link articles and fluidly incorporate information into your own experiences. You brought up a lot of points and maybe it would do good to focus on several of them and expand upon those ideas.

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