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Balancing Act: Navigating the Digital Divide

The promise of a democratic platform in the digital era was that everyone would have a say. Sociologists have long recognized that technology is neither intrinsically inclusive nor intrinsically restrictive. Instead, its usefulness and accessibility can highlight and reflect current societal inequalities. Let’s explore the social aspects of the digital divide, particularly in the post-pandemic environment.

The inequality in access to, use of, and gain from digital technology, particularly the internet, is called the digital divide. It’s not just about gadgets or connections. It reflects enduring disparities entrenched in geography, racial identity, and social position.

Socioconomics and Tech

The delicate interplay between technology and social position is at the digital divide’s core. Sociologists define socioeconomic status (SES) as the sum of an individual’s or family’s level of education, income, and employment (Delanty et al., 2021). This combination allows us to gauge that person’s or family’s social position or class. This social position is crucial in defining one’s access to the digital world in the digital era.

First, there is an obvious financial barrier: technology is expensive. Computers, smartphones, tablets, and broadband internet may be unaffordable for many people (Vogels, 2021). Beyond the initial investment, maintaining this equipment and services costs more money, including monthly internet fees and hardware and software upgrades. Prioritizing internet access for families that are already struggling to satisfy their fundamental requirements can be difficult, if not impossible.

The digital gap, however, is more than the capacity to buy goods or services. It also includes what sociologists refer to as “digital capital.” Like the idea of cultural capital, which describes individuals’ knowledge, abilities, education, and other cultural assets that increase their social mobility, digital capital describes the abilities and competencies required to operate online. This involves knowing how to use different platforms, separating trustworthy internet sources from unreliable ones, and protecting one’s online privacy. Higher SES individuals frequently have more options for acquiring digital capital through schooling, peer networks, or family support.

In many parts of the world, women are less likely than men to have access to technology or the internet (Tyers, 2021). This gap is not merely due to economic differences but also to societal norms and perceptions about gender roles. Women, especially in patriarchal societies, may not be encouraged or even allowed to pursue digital literacy, which further restricts their opportunities in the digital age.

Elderly individuals often find it challenging to adapt to new technologies (Anderson, 2017). They may lack the skills or the confidence to navigate digital platforms, resulting in a sense of isolation from an increasingly digitized society. Furthermore, age-related disabilities can compound this challenge. Things like font size, color contrast, and lack of alternative image text can pose significant barriers for elderly people.

The effects of this socioeconomic divide are far-reaching. People encounter obstacles in many areas of life without proper digital access and knowledge. Government services, educational materials, job applications, and social relationships are increasingly online. This perpetuates a loop where socioeconomic status is both a cause and a result of the digital divide, placing individuals at the bottom of the SES range at a disadvantage (Vogels, 2021). The final consequence is a society where the wealthy continue to prosper financially and in terms of access to knowledge, opportunity, and connectedness.

The Urban-Rural Disparity

When comparing urban and rural environments, the impact of location on the digital divide is particularly evident (Robinson, 2015). The commercial justification for building a solid internet infrastructure in densely populated metropolitan regions is apparent: with more prospective consumers concentrated in one place, service providers will get a more significant return on their investment. As a result of several service providers competing for clients, communities frequently benefit from better internet speeds, more connection alternatives, and a more competitive price environment (White, 2022).

About the Author

Austin Minter, a dynamic educator and researcher, enriches the academic landscape through his roles as a Lecturer at California State University, Fresno, and as adjunct faculty at several community colleges. With a rich academic background, Austin obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and a Master’s in Sociology, focusing on Geography, from Arizona State University. He is advancing his expertise as a doctoral student at Liberty University in Public Administration. In his doctoral journey, Austin delves into the intriguing research area of how shifting governance to more local levels can enhance social cohesion and fortify community resilience. His research is a deep dive into the sociological advantages of localized administrative control. Austin’s teaching repertoire includes Sociology, Political Science, and Geography courses. His professional journey extends beyond academia, encompassing roles in organizational development and research with various nonprofits and public agencies in the State of California.

Profile Photo of Austin Minter, M.A. California State University, Fresno