What is the Digital Divide?

What is the Digital Divide_

When we think of inequality the first things that come to mind are traditional forms of inequality: class, race, gender, health etc. However a new emerging type of inequality is digital inequality (van Djik, 2013). Digital differences refers to how your offline context, hinders or advances your ability to access the internet, resulting in digital inequalities. Different macro and micro factors lead to this digital divide.

Infographic by me of factors leading to the digital divide

As more and more activities are beginning to become available only online the question has been raised as to whether having access to the internet should become a basic human right. Robinson (2015) stated that ‘[the internet] has the potential to shape life chances in multiple ways’. There are so many opportunities that are available on the internet and nowhere else for things such as employment, healthcare, and education. For more details on the debate click here.

The ‘Learning in the Network Age’ MOOC that I am a part of states how difficult it could be for someone with an old smartphone on a contract with little data to access the internet. This is interesting because to be on the MOOC would require both those things. Therefore, aren’t things like MOOC’s not increasing the digital divide?

A TED talk by Aleph Molinari, discussing the Digital Divide and how to bridge it.

The final step in the MOOC asks you to reflect on how digital differences may have impacted your learning. After evaluating the different factors, I realise how fortunate I am. I got my first computer with internet access at age 7 or 8. When I reflect I am disappointed in how much time I spend on social media rather than using the internet to educate myself. If I had spent equal amounts of time educating myself as I do on social media I wonder what change I could have made in the world already.

Word Count: 295


Robinson, L., Cotten, S.R., Ono, H., Quan-Haase, A., Mesch, G., Chen, W., Schulz, J., Hale, T.M. and Stern, M.J., 2015. Digital inequalities and why they matter. Information, Communication & Society18(5), pp.569- [Accessible via: 582. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1369118X.2015.1012532]

Van Dijk, J.A., 2013. Inequalities in the network society. In Digital Sociology (pp. 105-124). Palgrave Macmillan, London. [Accessible via: https://ris.utwente.nl/ws/files/5599908/Digital_Sociology_-_Hoofdstuk_7_Inequalities_in_the_Network_Society.pdf]

YouTube. (2011). TEDxSanMigueldeAllende – Aleph Molinari – Bridging thee Digital Divide. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaxCRnZ_CLg [Accessed 22 Feb. 2018].



17 thoughts on “What is the Digital Divide?

  1. Thanks for a very interesting and insightful read Chloe. It is clear to me that you have spent some time researching the topic. You mention how ‘traditional’ aspects of inequality such as class, race, gender, health exist and can impact an individual. However, in terms of the digital divide do you think that these factors play a part? It was mentioned briefly in SOCI3073 that the internet can act as almost as a mirror in reflecting inequalities in society, and I think there could be some merit here as to how those already suffering from inequalities only find this exacerbated online.

    Source: Evans, K. (2013) ‘Rethinking Community in the Digital Age?’ in Orton-Johnson, K. and Prior, N. (Eds) Digital Sociology


    1. Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your question. Although I did not directly mention it I thought that that is what I had implied at the end when I reflected how digital differences had effected my learning, on the MOOC when you are made to reflect on your digital differences it says to evaluate it in terms of those factors. Thank you for highlighting that I will be sure to be clearer next time. Yes, I definitely think that these factors play a key role in the digital divide, as I said, I am lucky. With regard to the factors that you have mentioned above, this is because I am from a middle class family, White British, female and healthy. The only factor among these 4 that could potentially have the ability to hinder my digital literacies is the fact I am female, however, throughout my life, because of the society I live in I have never felt that I have been offered less in terms of technology to the boys around me.



      1. That makes a lot of sense in that case! Maybe more research into exactly how societal factors impact digital differences would be useful!


  2. Hi Chloe,

    I found your post on digital differences really informative this week. I had not come across the macro/micro element of the theory whilst doing my research so this was interesting to learn about! In my post this week I discuss the internet becoming a potential future human right, so to see someone else talking about this too was great to see!

    Your reflection on your own experiences thus far with the internet made me think about a case study I read whilst doing my research:


    Do you think that those who are brought up without access to the internet in the 21st century will ever be able to compete with those that have? (e.g. in terms of job applications)

    (121 Words)


    1. Hi Joanna,
      Thanks so much for commenting on my blog!
      In short, no. There is so much information available on the internet that you would require so much more time and effort to obtain if you did not have it, that being said those without internet access will be better at using resources, other than the internet to find things out.
      In terms of job applications, no. As the article about the debate I posted said, there are a number of jobs where the only way to apply for them or to find out about them is online – therefore putting these people at a disadvantage. They may be able to go to an internet cafe to apply for the job, but I don’t think that their computer literacies would be of a standard high enough for the job they were applying for anyway if they were without frequent internet access.


      1. Hi Chloe,

        I would definitely agree with you and if this is the case then those without internet access immediately become disadvantaged. I found in my research that the UN was considering making internet access a human right in 2016 and although they were unsuccessful at achieving this in its entirety, they were able to stop governments from intentionally restricting their people’s access – which I think is a great step forward. This article talks about how the world’s least developed countries are all working towards narrowing the digital divide by 2020 which is great to see! http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2018/01/worlds-vulnerable-countries-track-achieve-universal-internet-access-2020-un-report/

        I look forward to reading your future blog posts!



  3. Hi Chloe,

    Your post was very interesting to read!

    I believe that micro factors have more influence, simply due to the individual’s own beliefs and decisions. In some ways I would prefer to avoid online presence, due to the scams and unsafe environments (chat rooms, forums). Digital access has developed significantly, and more than 90% of US adolescents are online, emphasising the danger of identity exposure (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-02109-8).

    What factors do you think are the most important on impacting digital differences? Does this apply to yourself?

    MOOCs do require online Internet access, which may not be accessible to all users. However, many options are available, such as Internet cafes, or local and educational institutions providing Internet. There has been a 30.12% increase in MOOCs, implying digital learning is popular (http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/3671324). Do you agree with this?



    1. Hi Chloe,
      thanks for your comment. It is interesting that you say that you think mirco factors have more influence as what you continue to say really ties into what was discussed last week about being a digital resident!
      I think that is a very subjective question and depending on different parts of the world my answer would be different. In places where women are oppressed, then I would say that gender plays a big part in digital differences. However, in the UK I think that your class is probably the factor that contributes most to digital differences. It is really hard to give just one answer here.

      I just typed that and now realise it’s quite a silly answer, and basically answers for it’s self that location is the most important factor on out digital differences. Because of your location there will then be a knock on effect. What do you think?

      Digital learning may have become more popular, but that may only be among people that already have had access to the internet? I assume that everyone on this module (UOSM2008) had access to the internet prior to this module and now we have just joined the MOOC because we have to. I wouldn’t have known about MOOCs before this university course how are other people finding out about them? And yes, there may have been an increase in people using MOOCs, but how do you know this is from people that we’re already digitally literate and not people that werent? Secondly, there is an option to pay to be able to keep the information from the MOOCs for an extended period of time, not only for the time that the MOOC is running. Does that not create a further divide between the people on the course?


      1. Hi Chloe,

        Thanks for replying!

        I definitely agree that location and class are influential factors in our digital differences. Owning technology is an essential requirement for students to work efficiently. Furthermore, we live in urban areas, where broadband is accessible. At university, Eduroam allows quick wireless Internet connection (https://thesouthernnews.org/2017/02/15/eduroam-set-to-be-new-wireless-network/).

        You have raised excellent points about MOOCs. I never saw it from that perspective, where users may not have had digital exposure before. This will affect their online access, and complete courses slower. I agree that a further divide exists, especially when users pay for ‘additional features’. If one cannot afford online courses, then who will?

        Do you think MOOCs are suitable for all users? Most of them seem to be university oriented (https://qz.com/1120344/200-universities-just-launched-600-free-online-courses-heres-the-full-list/), and surely this creates more differences?



  4. “Therefore, aren’t things like MOOC’s not increasing the digital divide?”

    You’ve raised a very important question about MOOCs – would love to hear your thoughts on an answer to this! They seem to offer this idyllic vision of education for all as long as you’ve got an internet connection, but who is actually benefitting from them? When researching for a recent essay, I found this Harvard Business Review report on Coursera fascinating. Its authors – who, one must note, all either work at or with Coursera – look to offset how only 4% of users complete the courses to receive certification by highlighting just how big the audience can be compared to a typical class. Many users, however, seem to be well-educated, as only 18% cite “tangible” education benefits from their participation.


    What do you think can be done to use MOOCs or similar tools to overcome digital differences, particularly in less developed nations? Particularly on the macro scale, what other ways could be effective in empowering those currently excluded from the Web with digital skills?


  5. Hi!

    I really enjoyed reading your post about this topic! I especially liked the critique of MOOCS. I had not actually thought about this whilst I wrote my own post. Do you think that the fact that learning is moving online, universities and schools are actually now contributing to inequality? I know that some secondary schools now make students buy £200 laptops to complete their online homework. I cannot imagine how the parents who cannot afford it must feel when faced with this dilemma. After your research, what do you think would be the best strategy for closing digital differences?

    Look forward to hearing your thoughts!


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