To understand the Social Divide fully one must first understand the multidimensional occurrence called the Digital Divide. The digital divide can be defined as the gaps in societies that form between those that have access to the Internet and those who don’t. More specifically the distribution of digital technology within a society (Manuel, 273).

3 Aspects

3 aspects of the digital divide are: 1) The global divide; defined as the divergence of Internet and technological access between industrailized and developing countries. 2) The social divide and 3) the democratic divide; which exists in our world today between those who do and who do not use the Internet as a political resource where the participation of civic engagement can occur (Manuel, 279).

Definition:Social Divide

The social divide is the gap between the information rich and information poor within a society. The social divide can particularly be found in nations that are seen as being in the forefront of digital technological advancements, such as Australia, Canada and the United States (278). Unlike the digital divide the social divide focuses on the individuals within a specific society and how their access and use of the Internet differs (278).
Pippa Norris a popular author on the subject of the digital and social divide stated in his work “Digital Divide” from 2000, that the latest data presents that social divides still do exist at large between Americans with different social situations. One thing that has been recently added to many government agendas to tackle this issue has been the conglomeration of public and private resources that together aid in bringing the Internet to society at a readily available and affordable rate. For example, low cost services and community center /public library access (278).

Who it affects

People with different.......
- levels of income
- levels of education
- racial/ethnic groups
- family situations (ie. single parent families)
- age groups (ie. old and young)
- disabilities


Though many see the social inequalities as being shortly lived, others see the social divide as a problem that will only get worse with time. The ability to have better access to the important information that is available on the Internet would mean that the ratio of output to cost could be more efficient, the quality of products and services could have a greater effect and that there could be an equal distribution of developments within society. Thus overall contributing to closing the digital gaps within specific societies (278).

3 General Responses to the Social Divide

The existence of social divide has generated 3 general responses to the problem that differ from each other.

1) Cyber- Optimists: Believe that the digital divide will breakdown due to the combination of innovations, technological forces, market and the state, thus eventually leading to everyone having the internet (278).

2) Cyber- Skeptics: Believe that technology adapts to society and just as telephones adapted to society so will the internet (278).

3) Cyber- Pessimists: Place emphasis on the fact that the internet will only bring more inequalities to society, further reinforcing the divide between people (278).

Social Divide and the Knowledge Gap Hypothesis Theory

The Knowledge Gap Hypothesis states that the introduction of new technologies such as the internet, will help the information rich (those with superior levels of education and easy access to computers and technologies) get richer and the information poor (those who have inferior levels of education and access) get further behind being unable to catch up (Straubhaar, 391). Though the spread of information will benefit both groups, the information rich will always have an upper hand because they have easier access and can afford it more readily, thereby also giving them more leisure time with the technology. An early example of the Knowledge Gap Hypothesis is an experiment done with Sesame Street (391). Though the children's program was meant to help underprivileged kids, which it did, it also helped privileged children get further ahead. One approach to closing the Knowledge Gap has been Community Networking, which offers Internet access to disadvantaged groups through government agencies, schools, churches..... (392).



Barriers preventing access to the internet include
- Public access
- Access to updated equiptment
- Lack of awareness
- Lack of training and support

Non -Users

Types of people who aren't on the internet are known as “non-users” and can be divided into three groups
  1. Near users: barriers=cost/affordability + technical skills development + social understanding
  2. Distant users: no interest or perceive no value in internet for meeting their economic/social/cultural needs
  3. Far users: removed from online activities, lack resources, interests, skills to benefit from access

Example of Social Divide

A prime example of the social divide can be seen in the area of East Palo Alto, California which borders the technologically rich Standford University campus which is headquarters to billion dollar companies such as Yahoo and Oracle. East Palo Alto, though bordering onto a one of the most technologically rich areas in the US, has more then 17% of their population living in poverty and less then one out of five families have a computer in their home. Thus exemplifiying how easy a divide between those have who do and do not have access can occur. This also shows how the digital divide can be found in nations that are considered to be the most technologically advanced in the world.

More Info>>

Also see Social Exclusion for more related issues.


Castells, Manuel. "An Introduction to the Information Age." The Information Society Reader. Ed. Frank Webster, Raimo Blom, Erkki Karvonen, Harri Melin, Kaarle Nordenstreng, and Ensio Puoskari. London and New York: Routledge, 2004. 273- 283.

Jane Black. "Information Rich, Information Poor." BBC Canada. Oct 14 1999. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1999/10/99/information_rich_information_poor/467899.stm.

Straubhaar, Joseph and Robert LaRose (2001). “Media Now”. Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. 4th Edition. Belmont: Wadswoth/Thompson.

Social Divide Links