Statistics show that United Kingdom has 60.2 million internet users in a population of 65.1 million (meaning that approximately 92,6% of the population accesses the internet), and in Afghanistan 2.2 million people access the internet in a population of 33.3 million (meaning that approximately 6,8% of the population are considered internet users).*
In order to examine these and other indicators of countries’ development associated to the disposition of technology, scholars have adopted the term technology access gap. According to some of their conclusions, differences in access to technological knowledge due to economic and geographical factors contribute, on the one hand, to deepen divisions between social groups and, on the other hand, to expand the distance between developed and underdeveloped countries. These separations and distances restrict individual or national chances to increase welfare levels and catch-up efforts.
In other situations, especially in developed countries, the technology gap does not depend only on the possibilities of having access to technologies due to technical or economic reasons, but on other factors that involve cultural values and collective shared believes. In these cases, what counts are the shifts in purposes, expectations, and moral premises that people associate to the use of technology and innovations. Then we talk about technology usage gap.
"If it's not appropriate for women, it's not appropriate. Women and technology", by De todos los Colores http://www.flickr.com/photos/nachoeuropa/5815949513/sizes/z/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26173982
As far as the cultural factors are concerned, in a society or social group where technologies are accessible, we can find ambivalent positions towards them, so we can find actions, ideas and feelings defending opposite stances about the proper extent of technical resources. According to the sociologist A. Touraine (Touraine, 1995) at present, with a few exceptions, we accept the achievements of science but we don’t accept a science controlled society. Two are the aspects of science and technology that generate apprehension: “big science” and technocracy. The reasons are not technical or conceptual; conversely, they involve fundamental issues concerning the defense of personal values and believes as well as national and cultural identities: the ideology associated with progress is thought to contribute, on the contrary, to the destruction of these principles.
In that respect, some sociological studies focused on the Spanish perception of new technologies -whose results do not differ significantly from those obtained in other countries- show that, in general, about 95% of the participants in the survey associated new technologies to progress, life’s comforts and efficacy. Nevertheless, innovations are still associated to job destruction: 59% resolved that they provoke unemployment; 40% of the respondents thought that they generate inequalities, and 56% related them to more control over individuals (Fernández Prados, 2003).
Among the causes of the usage gap, besides the attitudes aforementioned, are the following: individual situations related to the lack of skills or disposition for renovating technological knowledge; factors such as gender diversity, place of residence, educational background, or age as well as personal decisions concerning the defense of traditions or attitudes of mistrust towards the consequences of the use of technologies and the privacy loss.
In the specific case of limitations in access to and usage of ICTs (Information and Communication technologies) we talk about digital gap, and more specifically access digital gap and usage digital gap, so-called by some authors respectively first and second digital gap. This gap constitutes in turn a modern version of what we can name the analogue gap, associated to the use of telephones and measured by the “telephone density” or “teledensity” (number of telephone connections for every hundred individuals living within an area) (number of telephones per 100 inhabitants). Teledensity has a significant correlation with the per capita GDP of the area, but this parameter is not sufficient for measuring the digital gap. In the first place because in several countries wireless and internet penetration rate exceed fixed-line connections; in the second place because the digital gap is much bigger than the analogue one: developed countries, representing a 15 % of the population, account for more than a half of the telephone lines and over 70% of mobile phone users whereas underdeveloped countries, constituting 60% of the global population, account only for 5% of the internet users. Thus, in order to measure the digital gap we need to take into account not only mobile phones, computers and internet sites, but also adequate access costs and access options to internet as well as access to an appropriate training in order to achieve an efficient use of these infrastructures.
As a matter of fact, the rapid growth and penetration of digital telecommunications has taken place before the analogue gap was reduced, so now the question is not only bridging the digital access gap, but also the digital usage gap. One significant task various governments and non- governmental organizations have set themselves has been, in order to promote a sustainable development, the reduction of the differences mentioned. But their actions and strategies, mainly focused on education, have proved to be not sufficiently effective because they have just concentrated on making technological resources more accessible (attending then only the access gap). This approach has given rise to the myth that implementing technological infrastructure to access internet would provide sustainable development. Nevertheless applying technology in the right place and in the adequate dimension is only a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. Transforming the perception of technology demands a balance between this process and a precise attention to values, stereotypes, and role models. Therefore, the reduction of the digital gap is associated to sustainable development only when the target group become actively involved in the process, adopts a learning attitude, and plays a leading role in deciding the steps to take towards a better social, moral and intellectual welfare.
Another specific case of technology gap worth mentioning is the technological gender gap, which refers to the idea that males and females differ significantly in their consideration to technology-related skills, businesses and careers. This type of gap can be contemplated under the perspective of inequalities derived from power relationships. According to some researchers such as Paola Tabet (Tabet, 1979), the control men have over instruments, limiting to females the access to technologies, is a way to exert and maintain power and domination over women. She poses the hypothesis of an
sous-équipement des femmes et d’un gap technologique entre hommes et femmes, qui apparaît dès les sociétés de chasse et cueillette et qui, avec l’evolution technique s’est progressivement creusé et existe toujours dans les sociétés industrialisés (Tabet, 1979, 10).
In fact, the use of tools determinates the inclusion or exclusion of woman in specific activities, being the introduction of complex tools what sometimes determines the “masculinization” even of the most typically feminine activities. As Murdock & Provost stated: “When the invention of a new artifact or process supplants an older and simpler one, both the activity of which it is a part and closely related activities tend more strongly to be assigned to males” (Murdock & Provost, 1973, 212)
The permanence of this bias nowadays, despite the numerous efforts and initiatives underwent to reduce it, is reflected in stereotypes that represent tools and technology in general as male activities. Extended to the case of computers and new technologies, and not only to internet access, these presumed differences gave rise to the digital gender gap. Many publications and documentaries deal with this problem, denouncing it, exploring the causes and trying to offer solutions. For example, the documentary CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap (Robin Houser Reynolds, 2015), offers a perspective of the subject and reveals that in the U.S. the gender gap was not so pronounced in the past as it is today: in the 1960s and 1970s, the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than the number of men, but from the mid-1980 on –when 37% of the computer science graduates were women- the percentage of women held up and then started to decrease, reaching 14% in 2014 (Camp, 2001).
The digital gender gap is reflected mainly in three levels. Firstly, at school, boys and girls “interact with technology differently. While girls use the computer for word processing and skill building, boys use them mostly for games. Girls use technology as a way to connect with people and solve real life problems, whereas boys view technology as a way to extend their power”. Secondly, “the gender gap in computer use becomes more evident in advanced classes, as girls tend to have less confidence in their use of computers and both boys and girls perceive computers as in the ‘domain of males’”. Finally, as a consequence of this, girls and young women are showing less interest on computing education in higher levels, and there is a lack of feminine roles associated to technology (Dorman, 1998). The result is that women are underrepresented in the IT workforce.
References and further readings: George P. Murdock and Caterina Provost. “Factors in the Division of Labor by Sex: A Cross-Cultural Analysis”, Ethnology, 1973, 12, 2, pp. 203-225; Paola Tabet “Les mains, les outils, les armes”, L’Homme, 1979, 19, 3, pp. 5-61; Steve Dorman, “Technology and the gender gap”, The Journal of School Health, 1998, 68, 4, pp. 165-166; Tracy Camp, “Women in Computer Science: Reversing the Trend”, Syllabus, 2001, pp. 24-26; http://www.syllabus.com); A. Touraine, “The crisis of ‘progress’”, in Martin Bauer, Resistance to New technology. Nuclear Power, Information, Technology and Biotechnology, Cambridge University Press, 1995; J. Sebastián Fernández Prador, “El valor de la ciencia y de la tecnología en la cultura española contemporánea”, in E. Bericart Alastuey (dir.), El conflicto cultural en España. Acuerdos y desacuerdos entre españoles, Madrid, CIS, Siglo XXI, 2003; Mary Kirk, Gender and Information Technology: Moving Beyond Access to Co-Create Global Partnership. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2008; Joel Cooper and Kimberlee D. Weaver, Gender and Computers: Understanding the Digital Divide, Philadelphia, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003; J. M. Cohoon and W. Aspray (eds.), Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2006.
* Internet Live Stats (www.InternetLiveStats.com). Elaboration of data by International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations Population Division, Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), World Bank.