Kent State Researchers Explore Digital Divide in New Book
By Ronald Roach
There has been considerable evidence amassed by public officials and researchers that documents a “digital divide” in American society existing between those who have and can afford the latest in technological tools and those who have neither. In Virtual Inequality: Beyond the Digital Divide, three Kent State University researchers explore and redefine the issue by investigating technology access, skill, political participation and economics.
The book’s authors, Dr. Caroline J. Tolbert, Dr. Karen Mossberger and Dr. Mary Stansbury, conclude that computer and Internet access are insufficient without the skill to use the technology, and that economic opportunity and political participation provide primary justification for realizing that this inequality is a public problem and not simply a matter of private misfortune.
Defying those who say the divide is growing smaller, Virtual Inequality, which is based on a unique national survey that includes data from more than 1,800 respondents in low-income communities, documents just the opposite. In addition to demonstrating why disparities persist in such areas as technological abilities, the survey also shows that groups that are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the digitally disadvantaged often share many of the same beliefs as more privileged counterparts.
As a group, African Americans, for instance, are in some respects even more positive in their attitudes toward technology than Whites, contrary to conventional wisdom. The book, whose research is presented in an accessible and easy-to-follow manner, is being published by Georgetown University Press this September.
Virtual Inequality presents the digital divide in its human dimensions and recommends a set of practical and common sense policy strategies. The book reminds readers that inequality, even in a virtual form, is unacceptable and a situation that society is compelled to address.
“The authors provide a concise and clear beacon for seeing and understanding the so-called digital divide not simply as a measurement of the gaps between those who have ready access to PCs and Internet connectivity and those who don’t. Instead, they present and explain a much bigger, more complex, critical set of problems and issues regarding how the allocation of information and knowledge, political power and opportunity is defining the evolving information society of the 21st century,” says Dr. Nolan A. Bowie, senior fellow and adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard University.
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