The digital divide, a term coined by President Clinton and Vice President Gore, is alive and well, according to a recent survey. Some eye-opening results:

  • 30% of American heads-of-households have never created a document on a computer
  • 21% of American heads-of-households have never looked up a Web page on the Internet
  • 21% of American heads-of-households have never used email

Age and educational attainment were significant determinants of digital citizenship, showing that the digital divide is really a proxy socioeconomic divide.

This is one thing that has continued to make me uneasy about the digital revolution — it seems to be as unfair as lifting a tax on the rich. The divide is probably widening, especially when you see it as a proxy socioeconomic divide. Nothing in the past 10 years has closed this gap.

It also makes me wonder about initiatives like Google Health and Microsoft’s HealthVault, which presuppose someone has a computer, high-speed access, and computer skills (and knowledge of health, and time to create a complicated record). Ultimately, these make the divide deeper, disenfranchising the people who might most benefit from a single health record (older, less affluent, less knowledgeable about health issues).

Of course, things are improving, but slowly, and the last 15-20% of users may benefit from a new approach to help them close the digital divide.

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


6 Thoughts on "We’re Still Digitally Divided"

Bridging the Digital Divide is more important now than ever. The Communications Workers Of America are working on this problem thru their project Speed Matters. The goal is affordable high speed Internet access for all Americans. Check out the website at

What are the numbers for Americans who’ve never sent a text message on a cell phone? Americans who’ve never taken a picture with a cell phone?

Would it be surprising if those numbers were greater than the percentages on Americans and computer/internet use?

This is a very good point. I would bet that the proliferation of cell phones will ultimately make that platform more familiar (and its related toolset). I’ll see if I can find anything on this. If anyone has research on this topic, please send it along!

Although I’m extremely computer savvy, I can agree that there are some aspects that are unfair. For example, most job applications have to be filled out on the company’s website. So, these companies assume that everyone that wants to apply has a computer, which is a catch 22 if you ask me. Even the minimum wage jobs ask for online applications. Wouldn’t one think that if someone was so destitute as to apply to a minimum wage job that they wouldn’t be able to afford a PC let alone internet access???

Kent, I’d guess that more Americans have and use cell phones regularly (whether or not they text or take pictures with them) than Americans who have regular (home) computer and internet access.

Makell Bird, the catch 22 is certainly there with online job applications. Public libraries, internet cafes, and FedEx-Kinko stores would have to be sufficient until one gets a personal computer. Internet cafes may not be that widespread in the US, though.

I agree. The fact that the FCC is creating a nationwide text-message alerting system, and that many universities are going to do the same soon (in the wake of the tragic shootings of late) shows that people will at least be receiving text messages. One source states that 84% of the US population has a device capable of texting. That puts the adoption rate above computers.

On a socioeconomic level, awareness and affodability of internet cafes and pay-as-you-go services remain divisive.

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