Opinion | The digital divide persists

A new study reveals that despite the fact that technology has become more affordable, India has a sharp digital divide

A new study reveals that despite the fact that technology has become more affordable and internet access increasingly ubiquitous, India has a sharp digital divide. The study, titled From Mobile Access to Use, authored by Jang Bahadur Singh and M.Vimal kumar from IIM-Tiruchirappali, lays out disparities among individuals with respect to access to information and communication technologies (ICT). Based on a survey conducted in 2015 across the nation, the report describes varying levels of mobile phone usage behaviour.

Simply put, while smartphones may be nearly everywhere, not everyone uses ICT with the same degree of sophistication, and that affects people’s ability to maximize the gains afforded by these devices. The survey divides usage into groups. Group 1 is composed of features that rank low in complexity, with little or no need of internet access, whereas Group 4 includes features that require a combination of both.

The results are more or less consistent with earlier theories—of gender and age determining the pattern of usage. For instance, as the complexity of applications and internet access requirements increases from Group 1 to Group 4, the divide is sharper between men and women and the young and old. However, contrary to popular perception, education and occupation do not significantly affect the feature-use divide. Hence, while we make a concerted push towards digitization, the findings reveal mere access to smartphones wouldn’t help. What is needed, perhaps, are public training modules to bridge the digital divide. Everyone must make the most of what they have in their hands—and have paid so much money for.

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