Future Impact of Digital Divide
If the digital divide is not addressed or continues to grow, the most vulnerable individuals and least-developed countries in our global community will suffer the most through a lack of equitable opportunities in education, healthcare, food production, and workforce development, among others. Increases in connectivity in typically-low-connectivity areas have shown to improve all aspects of a population’s existence, and even entire country-wide GDPs.
Impact of Increased Digital Divide
- Though some data is being collected through various NGOs and government agencies, there is a distinct lack of data on connectivity in developing countries. Because of this, there is not enough information to positively know if the digital divide is closing, as some experts state it is.
- If the digital divide continues to develop and increase, or is left unaddressed, “the yawning gap between under-connected and hyper-digitalized countries will widen, exacerbating existing inequalities” in education, technology, work availability, and other realms. Within these under-connected regions, issues related to the lack of global connection will increase issues with hunger, disease, and climate change, and make these populations even more susceptible to changing global conditions.
- Over the next decade-plus, “information and communication technology (ICT) will drive economic growth and power productivity gains,” which will in turn, drive global trade. Countries equipped for this technologically-driven commerce will thrive, while those countries lacking adequate connections and support infrastructure will decline further.
- Currently, half the world’s population “remains unconnected to the internet” in any fashion, while in developing countries (as of late 2017), more than 27 billion devices are connected through the IOT, with nearly 100 billion more expected to be IOT-powered by 2030. Countries that lag in these technological advancements will only continue to lag further and further behind unless the divide is bridged.
- Many African countries have very low internet penetration rates, even compared to countries in other regions with similar gross national incomes as the corresponding African countries. Countries in Latin America with lower gross national incomes than corresponding African countries also have higher internet penetration rates. In areas like Africa, the digital divide is greater, and will need to be addressed more aggressively if those countries are to compete in the global future.
- Unfortunately, small increases in access, given free to low-connectivity areas, like Facebook Free Basics as an example, come with their own set of problems. Newbie users aren’t as tech-savvy and may not understand they can only access a limited portion of the available information, or may be victims of negative campaigns, like those that have swept through various countries’ Facebook populations. Ensuring the tech advances come with equitable and unfettered access, as well as education on safe usage is key to ensuring a newly-connected population meets with highest success.
- In America (and other countries), citizens with the lowest education levels, the lowest incomes, those living in the poorest or most-rural areas, minorities, and the elderly, all suffer from decreased access to the internet. As the divide grows (or is left unchecked), they’ll be exposed to further disparities in economic, social, health, and political arenas resulting from their lack of connection to the digital world. The digital divide limits advancement and development (in work, social aspects, etc) in rural areas and low-income communities, especially, and as the divide grows, this will only worsen.
- Educationally speaking, children without regular access to the internet are at quite a disadvantage from their connected peers. They do not have the tools needed to live up to their full potential in today’s rapidly-developing world, their peers have an unfair competitive advantage just through their ability to access unlimited information, and they lose enhanced conveniences in studying and learning. The stark differences in learning experiences for connected versus unconnected students often show up as decreased productivity among those without the advantages of technology.
- Being connected to the internet is a requirement in today’s world – to start or grow a new business, “as well as advancing industries as varied as education, health care, agriculture, small business development, and humanitarian response.” Communities with no (or inadequate) internet access are at a severe disadvantage, which will only continue to grow (to the detriment of the population) if the digital divide is not addressed.
Positive Impact of Decreased Digital Divide
- Since research shows that a mere 10% increase in internet penetration can cause a full 1.35% increase in a country’s GDP, it’s clear that increasing access to the internet will help countries grow and compete in the future of the world.
- Internet connectivity is key to successful modern education. An example is the Gakawa Secondary School in Kenya, a previously unconnected school whose students struggled to pass Kenya’s national exam. Given internet access through a local network allowed the students to improve in every subject on the exam, and allowed them opportunity to compete fairly against their peers for the first time. The access will provide them with the chance to compete in the workplace once they get there, as well.
- Improvements in farming technologies (like data-enabled farming techniques) have the “potential to change the way we feed the planet and assist small-scale farmers in enhancing their livelihoods.” Technology-based improvements have shown to decrease water usage, reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and improve harvest yields, all of which can help areas ravaged by famine or poor growing conditions. Connecting these areas could drastically reduce hunger-related issues in poorer countries.
- Increased connectivity “offers substantial gains” to the least-developed countries in the world, allowing them to deliver “conveniently and at low cost, a wide range of vital services that were until recently beyond their reach.” These gains include those in telemedicine opportunities, offering health care access to those previously without it, as well as increased access to education and the workforce opportunities presented from that learning.
- Additionally, especially in the 47 least-developed countries, increased connectivity “can help improve local economies … which are highly vulnerable to economic shocks and her low per capita incomes."
To identify the impacts of increasing lack of connectivity (or a furthering of the digital divide), we explored a variety of expert research studies and articles, like those from the UN and the Digital Divide Council. Along with these, we explored research into the improvements caused by increased connectivity. From this collection of expert findings, we synthesized and analyzed the data presented to provide this impactful information.