From the 'Digital Divide' to `Digital Inequality': Studying
Internet Use As Penetration Increases
Working Paper #15, Summer 2001
Paul DiMaggio and Eszter Hargittai
The authors of this paper contend that as Internet penetration
increases, students of inequality of access to the new information
technologies should shift their attention from the "digital
divide" - inequality between "haves" and "have-nots"
differentiated by dichotomous measures of access to or use of
the new technologies - to digital inequality, by which we refer
not just to differences in access, but also to inequality among
persons with formal access to the Internet. After reviewing data
on Internet penetration, the paper describes five dimensions of
digital inequality - in equipment, autonomy of use, skill, social
support, and the purposes for which the technology is employed
- that deserve additional attention. In each case, hypotheses
are developed to guide research, with the goal of developing a
testable model of the relationship between individual characteristics,
dimensions of inequality, and positive outcomes of technology
use. Finally, because the rapidity of organizational as well as
technical change means that it is difficult to presume that current
patterns of inequality will persist into the future, the authors
call on students of digital inequality to study institutional
issues in order to understand patterns of inequality as evolving
consequences of interactions among firms' strategic choices, consumers'
responses, and government policies.
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