Giving Compass' Take:
- Natasha Piñon explains how disparate access to digital technology impacts opportunities for education, employment, and connection.
- What factors contribute to whether a person can take advantage of digital technology? How can funders support increasing access through technology, policy, programming, and other avenues?
- Read about the digital divide in urban areas.
What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Working from "home" in a parking lot. Job interviews on laggy Zoom calls. Students trying to log onto class from a cell phone. For all of the already devastating and bitterly unequal impacts of the pandemic, a gap in internet and technology access, also known as the digital divide, has consistently worsened amid what was an already dire situation.
Here's what you need to know about the digital divide, its impact throughout the pandemic, and where we might go from here.
Angela Siefer, executive director of the (NDIA), a broadband access organization, who has been working on matters concerning community technology since the mid '90s, says the digital divide refers to the fact that some people lack access to the necessary technology for fully participating in modern, daily life.
In Siefer's telling, it's important to keep a wide definition of the digital divide because the specific "divides" with respect to the internet and technology change constantly. "As time moves forward and technology keeps changing, we're going to create new divides so we need to recognize that that's a truth and prepare for it," she explains.
For instance, some of Siefer's early work involved providing people access to computer labs, and simply training them on how to use a computer, a far cry from the necessary tech and training needed to close the digital divide today.
Amina Fazlullah, director of equity policy at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that provides media and technology recommendations to parents and educators who has also worked on connectivity for vulnerable populations in previous jobs, sees things similarly. She maintains the digital divide isn't just about lacking connectivity or proper devices, and thinking about and defining the digital divide should reflect this. To be adequately connected to technology, "you need to connect communities to the appropriate supports they need to effectively utilize these devices and this connectivity," she says.
Providing this support involves thinking of two things: "digital equity" and "digital inclusion." "Digital equity," defined as full, equal access to information and communication technologies for everyone, is the ultimate goal, Siefer explains. To reach full digital equity, we need to utilize strategies of digital inclusion, she adds.
To that end, affordable home broadband and access to proper devices are just the starting blocks of digital inclusion efforts, Fazlullah explains. Reaching the goal of digital equity would also require adequate IT support, digital literacy skills and technology training, accessible language availability for tech resources, among other forms of support, Siefer and Fazlullah explain.
Siefer and Fazlullah argue these efforts are deeply necessary because technology touches almost all basic facets of modern life, from work to healthcare to education. Not having internet access and adequate tech devices means exclusion from vital aspects of quite literally being alive.
With respect to employment, those living within the digital divide lack access to remote work, and it's harder for them to access potential job postings or listings without reliable internet access, Fazlullah explains. It also becomes a major hindrance to education and retraining educational programs. This was once called the "homework gap," in reference to the difficulty of completing homework without internet access, but amid pandemic-induced distance learning, this gap now often encompasses all schooling, she notes.
Read the full article about the digital divide by Natasha Piñon at Mashable.