Ángel Roldán Medina
Degree in Computer Science
The digital divide is not what happens when you drop your cell phone on the floor, and you see the beautiful picture that has appeared on the screen. The digital divide is instead that which separates those who consider dropping their cell phone on the floor to be a real misfortune from those who are astonished that this fact can be such a problem for someone.
What is happening with access to the digital world?
The pandemic has increased the digital divide problem, or somewhat digital divides. The figures are there and serve as an example:
– 63.8% of households served by the “Spanish Red Cross Responds” program does not have a computer, and 46.6% do not have any internet service contracted.
– In Spain, 10% of children and their families have an income of fewer than 900 euros per month, and 23% of these children do not have access to a computer.
– Almost 40% of the world’s population lives in low-income countries. Around 1 billion people do not have access to ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies).
More than a third (34.5%) of Spanish households with children under 16 years of age have usually had difficulties following the school year: 23.6% do not have computer equipment, and 12.7% do not have an Internet connection. Added to this are social difficulties, such as not having the support of the school, the teachers, or the family.
– In Africa, only 39.3% of its inhabitants live online, compared to 87.2% of Europeans and 94.6% of North Americans.
– More than 40% of the world’s population has no opportunity to learn to use a computer.
Some statements that may give us food for thought:
– The decline in access to new technologies suffered by certain groups is not only a symptom of inequality but also a direct cause.
– The pandemic has exacerbated some problems, such as the digital divide because communications and technology help mitigates isolation and unwanted loneliness.
I have just spoken of gaps in the plural because the causes and the populations that suffer from them are different, and each of them may have other forms of attention.
The most visible gaps are:
– Third World countries and marginalized sectors.
– Elderly people
– Rural world
– People with disabilities
– Now, since the pandemic, education.
A component that underlies most of them is the significant socioeconomic gaps in our society.
The problem is that the lack of access of part of the population to the opportunities or services provided by the digital universe means that the differences between some people and others are increasing faster than before. We are talking about a digital emergency. There are other gaps, not so much related to the economic or geographic capacity to access the network or to have a device that allows reasonable access. The need for digital literacy goes beyond having a device and making essential use of the digital universe. Once the problem of access, generally solved with money, has been solved, a more challenging or slower problem begins to be solved—the problem of training the population to manage in the digital universe.
Every day we are more and more exposed to disinformation problems, making us vulnerable people without knowing it. Thus, our decisions, opinions, and beliefs can be manipulated more efficiently than ever because, in addition, we have the false security that we have never been better informed than now.
Another problem that increases the digital divide is the quality of certain services, which make them highly complicated to use; this complexity leads many people, despite having access to the Internet, to depend on others to access necessary services, which are only provided through the digital universe. The request for assistance during the pandemic has been an example of this. This is the reason why for many people, their personal autonomy is being reduced, as they are dependent on others for access to the digital realm. More and more people require digital beneficence; they have to be helped by others to do what they cannot do on their own.
What can we do to close these gaps?
We ask ourselves in the face of these problems: what can be done to narrow these gaps or counteract their effects? How does this challenge us to act and be collaborators of a better world for tomorrow?
The UN, through the 2030 Agenda, has set us some Sustainable Development Goals, in which we could frame this type of initiatives and which we could enrich with different actions. For example, SDG 9, building resilient infrastructure, promoting sustainable industrialization, and fostering innovation, is probably the first to identify initiatives to help meet its goals, but it is also in 10. Reducing inequalities, 4. Quality education, 8 Decent work and sustainable growth, and 16 Peace, justice, and strong institutions.
There is a first step that we all can and should do, is, as always, to become aware that this is a problem, a cause of inequality, which can affect everyone, including ourselves or our environment, and in which we can all do something to collaborate to the extent of our possibilities.
There are initiatives aimed at facilitating access to ICTs, which is the first point to be resolved.
In this aspect, the first responsibility is that of governments. Our central commitment must be to demand that institutions act quickly; governments must set themselves challenging targets over time to reduce the access gap and guarantee universal access as soon as possible. We must demand international collaboration to ensure that the digital access gap in developing countries heals faster than in the developed world.
In addition, we can each individually find initiatives to join or collaborate on. From providing our own devices that we believe are obsolete to collaborating with programs that aim to provide access devices to those who do not have them due to economic difficulties. It is more challenging to help extend access to the network, although we can always share our WI-FI or our data with a neighbor if they need it and cannot afford it.
The digital skills aspect is undoubtedly more complex and has many extensions. On the other hand, this gives many more possibilities to collaborate and help. It is also a field of action of the states and public institutions that have to adapt the current educational programs and develop new specific programs that reach another type of population intending to develop these digital skills. From the individual level, a first step can be in each of us to improve our digital culture; let’s become more competent in the digital world, and thus we can help the people around us who are not. Let us demand quality digital services. Those of us who work in this field, let us strive professionally to make applications and devices accessible to all, simplifying their use and making digitization easier and safer.
Learning information verification mechanisms and using them can stop us from being transmitters of hoaxes and misinformation, thus helping our society to stop being so vulnerable.
Let’s not create unnecessary non-digital bubbles. We must be respectful with people who want to stay away from digital and prefer to keep everything traditional as much as possible. But let’s not fool ourselves; the solution is not to turn our backs on digitalization; the advantages and opportunities that technology provides to humanity make it worthwhile to bet on it, in addition to fighting to reduce its undesirable effects to avoid obviating what is coming.
To the extent that we can, we must collaborate with the many digital literacy programs, paying the utmost attention to digital education. However, as we have experienced during the pandemic, the digital divide directly impacts access to and quality of education. Therefore, the digital divide can seriously jeopardize that “lever of social mobility” between social strata, which is education.
It is good, and we must support initiatives to help people who cannot use digital services to find a job, request an administrative application, or carry out any procedure. But it is better to bring these people closer to the possibility that they will be able to do all this and use digital options such as training, which will allow them to get more opportunities for progress.
Ángel Roldán Medina