Digital divide is a frequent and popular topic. The general feeling is that it is something negative that should be fought against, and diminished as much as possible. But is there a consistent and generally accepted definition of digital divide? One that would enable us to measure digital divide, evaluate it, compare, discuss etc.? Or is digital divide more like a Yeti (the Abominable Snowman) in statistics? Something that everybody talks about, but nobody has really seen it and knows much about what it really is?
The usual understanding is that “digital divide” is the imbalance between something that has to do with ICT. And once those numbers, describing such an imbalance do exist, the amount of digital divide (or: level, ratio, coefficient or whatever we call it) can be exactly calculated, using traditional statistical methods.
But the real problem is somewhere else: what exactly should we measure, if we want to evaluate digital divide? Is digital divide the difference in Internet penetration between various countries? Or the difference in fixed phone penetration, mobile phone penetration, PC penetration etc.?
Yes, such statistics do exist, and they are even presented as “digital divide statistics”, see example. And they surely are significant indicators that should be watched and evaluated carefully. But they deal more with economical issues: with the distribution of something (goods and services), and with the take-up: how many people buy or rent this or that.
At least in my opinion, digital divide should deal with more “human” aspects than economical and industrial factors. With knowledge, abilities and skills. But then it is even more difficult to provide a precise definition of what should be measured and evaluated. Fortunately, the task is not impossible.
In my next article, I will discuss the results of one Eurostat survey, monitoring the abilities of EU citizens to perform specific tasks on the Internet. They show some interesting differences between Visegrad countries, and at least in my opinion are more close to how “digital divide” should be interpreted.
But perhaps the most significant result, not only from these particular results but also from discussions with people from statistical offices, is that there is not “one digital divide”, but “many digital divides”. And in the eternal quest for a definition of digital divide, this should be kept in mind. One digital divide is not enough.