The digital divide | TheSpec.com
While walking around Corktown in Hamilton, I recently overheard a very familiar conversation. Four people, probably homeless, were negotiating time to borrow a smart phone. Finally, a woman said to one of the men, “I’ll send all the texts I need to send, then I’ll get your phone back to Seven.” What I saw, four adults sharing a common phone, was a sign of digital inequality.
The term digital divide was coined in the 1990s during the rise of the digital economy. He described the divide between those who had access to the Internet and those who did not. Today, the divide includes nearly a third of Canadians who lack access to high-speed internet (downloads of 50 megabytes per second), those who lack a reliable device, and those who lack digital literacy skills. .
Those who face barriers to digital access are disproportionately represented by those who already face economic, geographic or social barriers. This includes people who live in rural or remote areas, indigenous peoples and other ethnic minorities, people born before 1960, people with disabilities and people with low incomes.
The causes of the digital divide are multiple. First, there is a lack of infrastructure. The cost of access is high; Canada has some of the most expensive datasets in the developed world. Finally, and difficult to measure, the low rate of digital literacy. Participating in a digital society means being able to navigate online systems, and not everyone is fluent. This also includes operating securely online against cybersecurity threats, misinformation and disinformation.
As a librarian, I have followed the divide throughout my career. Public libraries – dedicated to connecting people to information – have worked to help bridge the gap from the start.
Shelter-in-place orders in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak pushed many Canadians to work and learn from home. With the change came the assumption that everyone was set to continue living life as usual, remotely. The reality was far from the truth. Many vulnerable citizens were completely cut off from their only source of digital access when libraries closed. Lack of connectivity or device also means the inability to meaningfully participate in education, the economy, the health care system, and the inability to connect with loved ones and social supports.
However, it is not just the most vulnerable who have struggled over the past two years. Many households have risen to the challenge of sharing what was once an acceptable amount of internet connection and devices in the home. The students fell behind; some have even disappeared from the system.
The solutions are multidimensional, nuanced and complicated. Canada’s vast geographic space makes it difficult to connect. A promising new initiative — Canada’s Connectivity Strategy — announced by the federal government hopes to connect the country to 50 MBPS by 2030. However, if this initiative is successful, it will narrow the gap, but not close it permanently. .
Affordable connectivity will remain a barrier for many.
Empowering and educating as many people as possible to participate as digital citizens will strengthen the digital economy and provide more opportunities for many. But, sadly, too many people find themselves without their lifeline.