Reconceptualising the digital divide

Mapping the Digital Divide in AfricaRagnedda, M. (2019). Reconceptualising the digital divide. In Mutsvairo, B., and Ragnedda, M., (2019) (eds)., Mapping the Digital Divide in Africa. A mediated Analysis. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 27-43.

Introduction

The term “digital divide” emerged in the 1990s to define inequalities in access to the Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), framing it as a matter of having or not having access to ICTs (Compaine 2001). The firsts empirical researches have shown how some specific socio-demographic variables, such as employment status, income, education level, geographic location, ethnicity, age, gender and family structure, influenced the access to the ICTs, creating a digital gap or divide among citizens (domestic digital divide) or countries (global digital divide). Such inequalities have widened during the years, despite the fact that the World Summit on the Information Society, held in Geneva (2003) and then in Tunis (2005) has stressed the idea that no one should be left out from the benefits offered by the information society. The importance of the Internet as a pre-requisite for economic and social development, has been further stressed by the United Nations in 2015 when the Internet has been included among its goals for resolving the most persistent social and economic challenges of our time (UN, 2015: 15). Indeed, in a digital enabled society, part of the human activities depends on how we access, generate and process information. It is then worth asking how the phenomenon of digital divide and digital inequalities has been approached and analysed by both scholars and policy makers and how such approach has changed over the years. Hence, the aim of this chapter is to discuss the change of perspectives in analysing and attempting to bridge the digital divide, and reconceptualise this concept by offering a nuanced theoretical approach to analyses the rise and persistence of digital inequalities.

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The evolving digital divide: from the first to the third level

emeraldIn this blog written for the Real Impact blog @massimoragnedda  and @marialauraruiu  discuss the inequalities in accessing and using technology

The rise of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) was seen at the beginning as an opportunity for freedom of information, and to level up existing inequalities (Rheingold, 1993; Negroponte, 1995). However, scholars realized soon that access to ICTs would give an advantage to specific citizens/users (Resnick, 1998; Hargittai, 2000). The term “digital divide” emerged to describe inequalities in access to the technologies of the information society. At the early stage of research on the digital divide, access to the Internet and ownership of ICTs was seen both by scholars and by policy makers as the most crucial factor. The possibilities for an individual to access and use the Internet are at the base of the first level of digital divide.

Moving beyond access….

Nevertheless, access to the Internet alone cannot determine how much value users gain from the Internet and, therefore, this dichotomy of “haves” and “have nots” is ineffective to describe a phenomenon that is no longer based only on the possession of technology or simple access to it. After the fading of the initial euphoria surrounding the rise of ICTs, it become clear that users with more information skills, more resources, and more social and economic capital would gain greater advantages than others. These digital inequalities opened up new dimensions of social segmentation, interwoven with traditional cultural and social inequalities and potentially reinforcing them. Digital divide started to be seen as a phenomenon relating to complex issues that involve all aspects of community life, in economic, political, cultural and social arenas.

We have moved from the first level of digital divide (mainly based on access to the Internet) to a more sophisticated and multidimensional second level (based on the disparities in computer and Internet use). Skills, competence and abilities to use the Internet have become more important than even. Not only the material access to the Internet is taken into consideration, but also the different uses of it. Recently a new approach defined as the third level of digital divide emerged (Ragnedda 2017). It focuses on the social and cultural benefits deriving from accessing and using the Internet. It analyses the offline returns of accessing and using digital technologies, attempting to understand who gains the most advantage from the Internet (van Deursen and Helsper 2015).

How do we close the divide?

Accessing and properly using ICTs constitutes a new civic right. Narrowing the uneven distribution in the access to, use of, or impact of ICTs between individuals, must be ranked as one of the top human rights priority. The possibilities that the Internet offers to citizens in economic, political, social and cultural areas are not exploited by everybody in the same way. The Internet influences possibilities for citizens to improve their life chances, but in a vicious circle, based on their original social position. In other terms, social strata that already enjoy social advantages become further privileged by using the Internet.

The different uses we make of the Internet lead to completely different roles of the network in people’s lives. Socio-economic and cultural backgrounds affect the access to and the use of the Internet (first and second level) and that this online experience influences people’s life chances and the opportunities they have in the offline world (third level). Digital inequalities, therefore, tend not only to reinforce social inequalities already existing in the offline society, but also to enlarge the gap between the less advantaged and the most advantaged individuals. Social strata that in the social realm tend to obtain more valuable resources are the same that tend to exploit ICTs most advantageously.

Massimo Ragnedda and Maria Laura Ruiu examine how digital capital can be defined, measured and impact policy in their recently published book Digital Capital: A Bourdieusian Perspective on the Digital Divide. Find out more here.

Distributed Pool Mining and Digital Inequalities. From Cryptocurrency to Scientific Research

JECESAuthor Accepted Manuscript (AAM) 

Hanna Kreitem and Massimo Ragnedda (2020). Distributed Pool Mining and Digital Inequalities. From Cryptocurrency to Scientific Research, in Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

 

Introduction 

This article ventures to explore the dynamic relations between consumption and production in novel technologies that utilise end-user computing resources, as an implementation of distributed computing and alternative of attention economy, and the promises and opportunities it provides from the perspective of digital inequalities to promote dialogue on the social aspects of distributed technologies. The discussion flows from setting the scene on digital inequalities in the age of widespread access to discussing distributed computing and later to examining cases of distributed computing provided by the masses of users and the promises of opportunities it offers. The cases were selected to represent different applications of distributed computing, including cryptocurrency distributed mining and contribution to scientific research. Finally, the article compiles lessons learned from the cases studied into a suggested model for a fair revenue model for content and online service providers that utilises user device computing resources, or computational power, rather than their data and attention.

Relations between content providers and consumers have changed dramatically since the inception of the Internet (Yuan et al., 1998). The relationship has shifted from an equal peer-to-peer network, to a more centralised and clearly defined dichotomy of content providers and content consumers or audience (Randall, 1997). In the second stage, Internet users started using the web as a means to share their own content production, in what was termed Web 2.0 (O’Reilly, 2005), with a plethora of platforms and services facilitating that (Constantinides and Fountain, 2008). The advent of Web 2.0 reshaped network power relations and gave user generated content an important value and power in driving Internet use, such as content genereted by users, and data generated about the users, as is the case with social media platforms (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010).

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Full article here. Distributed pool mining. From Cryptocurrency to Scientific Research Please note that this article has been accepted for publication and undergone full peer review but has not been through the copyediting, typesetting, pagination and proofreading process which may lead to differences between this version and the Version of Record.

Digital divide and digital capital in multiethnic Russian society

MulticulturalGladkova, A., Vartanova, E., Ragnedda, M. (2020), Digital divide and digital capital in multiethnic Russian society, Journal of Multicultural Discourses, https://doi.org/10.1080/17447143.2020.1745212

Abstract: The paper draws linkages between ethnic diversity of the eight federal districts of Russia and their technological development (access and use of ICTs, digital literacy, etc.). We show that although there is no universal correlation between ethnic composition of the regions and the level of their technological advancement, regions where Russians constitute the majority (i.e. Central and Northwestern) more often tend to be the country’s leaders in terms of technological development. Following up on this, we use purposive sample of 398 Internet users based in Russia, showing how the level of digital capital of users varies depending on their ethnicity (here we will distinguish between two large groups – Russians and non-Russians, based on self-identification of survey participants) and their place of living. Results of the digital capital study, despite being indicative, show that those belonging to the ethnic majority (in our case Russians) and those living in big cities tend to have a higher level of digital capital.

We argue that although ethnicity solely does not define the level of users’ digital capital, it is still an important and understudied issue. This is particularly true for big multiethnic societies, such as the Russian society, where digital divide across various groups and regions remains a serious problem.