Web 2.0 turned the digital divide into a social divide

Digital divide used to be and still is a real concern in our industrialized countries. Maybe we should end talking about industrialized countries to say “computerized countries” what seems to be more relevant with today’s world. Maybe some would say that it’s because we neglected this shift that we were stuck with old industrial models applied to a “soft” economy and that what happened last fall happened. We could talk about the destiny of both Google and GM, what is the embodiment of the changes our word is experiencing but that’s not my point here.

At the beginning, digital divide was defined as inequality of access to digital tools. There were those who could access them and the others. It’s easy to understand the amount of opportunties for the early users who were able to gain abilities while the computer and, after, the web industry was growing up, while, on the other hand, the other had to catch up with these technologies years later. And some are still running to jump into the train.

Considering my generation for instance, I can see the difference bewteen those who had their first computer in 1985 when aged 10, discovered the web with a 56 ko modem in 1995 and followed this trend and those who had their first computer in 1997 and their first internet experience in 2000. The gap still remain today.

Anyway, at this time things were clear : there were those who could affort a computer (or those whom parents could) and the others. Among them, some see the interest, some didn’t. Then there were those who had cable or ADSL very early and those for whom this technology was not available in their city. Hence this divide.

Today, web 2.0 shows us the divide has a new nature. What means different means will be needed to fix it.

In 2009 I don’t think that, in our countries, affordability is an issue. Both computers and internet are affordable for most people. We can even do, with a phone, things we would not have expected years ago.

Applications are also more and more easy to use. Who once tried to explain to non tech-savvy people how to use a computer running on windows (or even MacOs), how to use Word, Excel, a mail client, or a photo or video application knows how hard it was.

Today eveyone can understand how to publish something on twitter, update a facebook profile, write on a blog. The rising of a generation of  “bloggin’ grandads” and the fact +50 yo people is a growing population on facebook is an evidence. I would not be surprised to learn one day that grandparents will, if not the iniatiators, at least the animators and active members of family social networks like HelloTipi which existence shows that usages transcend generations.

But the divide still remain. Tools are accessible, affordable, easy to use. What’s missing ? Usages and sense.

Everybody can publish something on twitter. But it you make a test with average people, how many of them will answer “ok…I understand how it works. But what for ? I can undersand how to do things…but I don’t know why I would”.

Years ago, everybody could see the interest of a word processor, of a spreadsheet, but found it hard to use it. Everybody can easily use new tools but can’t see why. Ok, milions of people are using them. But it’s still a very low number compared to the people who could use them.

Digital divide is more and more looking like a social divide beacause it’s about the ability and the will to get involved in social dynamics.

We can fear it can become, later, a social divide in the true sense of the word because it  could be a cause of exclusion for those who just can’t get those new social dynamics that are becoming more and more important for professional and businesses purposes.

Many reasons can be found to explain that : what remains of the technological barrier, age, but none of the them can explain everything alone. Not every “Y” are hyperconnected, some seniors are true social leaders. So there’s something very complex behind all that, something related to each one’s personality.

So the social divide depends on each one’s ability to adopt new usages. Less impressive that a divide caused by the unaffordability of technoogy, it may be much harder to overcome, even with new generations.

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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