The digital divide describes inequalities in access to, use and impact of information and communication technologies. At least two levels of the digital divide are generally accepted: access (first-degree divide) and use (second-degree divide). Public policies generally aim to reduce the digital divide by extending the coverage of the Internet, promoting physical access to the network and the dissemination of digital practice as a whole. Observing that digital technologies can exacerbate pre-existing socio-cultural inequalities, however, a critical current question is the need to generalize digital technology in our societies.
Digital divide of the first degree
The digital divide of the first degree refers to inequalities in access to digital infrastructure and equipment and the Internet. It is divided into several modalities and scales: the global digital divide is the technological gap between developing and developed countries at the international level; Within the same country, this divide can be observed between several territories (geographical digital divide) and/or between several individuals depending on characteristics such as age (generational digital divide), gender, level of education or income, etc.
Digital divide of the second degree
The second-degree digital divide refers to the diversity of Internet usage patterns. This second categorization takes into account the growing diffusion of digital technologies within the population and aims to complement the analysis in terms of connection and disconnection by highlighting new inequalities related to user capacity9.
Any analysis of digital divides is based on a particular approach to information and communication technologies (ICTs). For some, they represent generic technologies that can be disseminated everywhere and for everyone, while for others they are considered biased technologies requiring tacit knowledge and cannot be used by the entire population, thus benefiting the most trained individuals.
A neologism combining illiteracy and electronics, is increasingly common to describe what is perceived as a skills gap in the use of ICTs. Illiteracy is the counterpart of numerical literacy or computer literacy.
Research on the digital divide considers that the internet generally has positive effects and concludes that the digital divide needs to be reduced to reduce social inequalities. However, that internet use and digital skills are not always sufficient to produce beneficial effects. A 3rd level of a digital divide between positive and negative effects of Internet use depends on complex and multiple socio-cultural factors that go beyond the digital issue alone. The Internet could therefore reinforce existing sociocultural inequalities Even if the digital divides between first and second degree would be reduced.
Note that the gap between the knowledge developed by a “virtual community” (e.g. open-source software programmers) and the knowledge of newcomers becomes significant. This mechanism can lead to the aggravation of fractures related to uses and content. It also imposes increasingly complex learning modalities for those seeking to join the community. In the open-source example, community development could lead to a compartmentalization of knowledge even though the initial objective was the opposite.
A political reading of digital technologies leads to the perspective of the digital divide. The Internet in principle allows for more equal access to the public sphere, but rather than democratizing the media, the internet perpetuates the media dominance of elites. Initiatives to resist capitalism through the development of digital commons are neutralized and even feed the hegemonic neoliberal system, as in the example of the hijacking of the sharing economy by a site like Airbnb.
The defenders of the digital commons as a factor of emancipation insist on the ambivalence of technology and propose a typology that allows us to find ourselves among the initiatives that benefit capitalism or, on the contrary, those that fight against it. In contrast, the key element of criticism is the similarity of technological mediations present in both non-commercial platforms entirely based on open source and commercial platforms (Airbnb). For example, creating a profile and participating in evaluation leads to a new form of commodification, that of reputation. As in the monetary economy, the economy of reputation reinforces the differences between the possessed and the non-possessed. The logic of acceleration is inscribed in digital technologies as well as in capitalist logic, and these accelerations carry growing inequalities.