The Digital Divide and What To Do With It

In the article, “The Digital Divide and What To Do With It,” Hargittai identifies the rapid rise in Internet users as between 1994 and 2001, the adult US population on-line soared from approximately 13% to 55%. The rise was not experienced equally across however as Asian Americans and Caucasians as the only races to hold rates above 45%. Hargattai’s overall argument focuses on strengthening technological skills and education rather than simply supplying the infrastructure. She begins by outlining four determinants that sum to one’s skill or “the ability to use new technology efficiently and effectively” (829).

First, technical means and access to high quality devices are greatly beneficial in enhancing educational levels, and individuals with these resources “are much more likely to exhibit high levels of sophistication” (829). Secondly, many people may have access to computers through local libraries but do not own the technology themselves. Those without personal computers can experience restrictions such as lengthy wait times or limited access. Hargattai then discusses how people’s social network leads to their technological skill. People that are surrounded by new gadgets and users are much more likely to adopt the technology themselves. The last determinant is experience; people that have invested time into learning each feature are “expected to be better at finding information on-line” (830) and more able to take full advantage of what each innovation has to offer. Each of these factor amounts to a person’s skill or their technological proficiency. Hargattai asserts “the prevailing approach to the digital divide focuses on a binary class of… those who are connected from those who do not have access to the medium” (837), but the attention should center on educating and training the public. She compares Internet policy to reading from the perspective that “children are not given a book in first grade and expected to read” (837). The need to expand technological access around the country is essential but without the requisite training the medium cannot be truly effective.

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