The Hardest Gap to Bridge: Digital Differences

The Hardest Gap to Bridge: Digital Differences

Illustration by Tim Lahan for MIT Technology Review

Heads up! Credits to pictures can be seen when hovering over them.

We all use the Internet differently, and that not only says something about us, but also about the society we live in.

Going at the roots, we encounter the term ‘digital divide’, the gap between the populations of accessing digital technology. Researchers have already identified an extensive list of why it is happening and Robinson et al. (2015) provides a good overview of all possible aspects of this issue, like age, gender or government decisions (Guillen, M. F., & Suárez, 2005).

Iarina Dafin using PowToon (2018)

I created a map of internet penetration rates while researching this topic for my COMP1205 Professional Development module, and it can be used to better understand where we stand. While I was updating the data, I was surprised to find out that not much has changed in the last 3 years. A very small number of countries dramatically improved their situation, while the geographical divide is still apparent, as we can easily identify the North-South problem of uneven development (Reuveny & Thompson, 2007).

Iarina Dafin (2014, updated 2018)

Digital inequality feels like a much more modern term (DiMaggio & Hargittai, 2001), as it not only observes that some might not use the Internet, but it also recognises how various people of the world will inevitably use the it in different ways. This is very accurate where I come from, as Romania has a wide variety of Internet users, ranging from tech experts and casual users, all the way to countryfolk that have never used a cellphone.

When it comes to my experience, I cannot imagine doing what I currently do without the Internet and I expect that without it, my life would be much different. I get my news, my knowledge and my entertainment online, I change bits of who I am everyday as I learn, so not having that source of information would only leave me in the dark, unable to reach my full potential.

et's Go There Travel Inc. Presents
Iarina Dafin using Canva (2018)

As further insight into my Internet habits and opinions, I attached my comments from the course MOOC.



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Count (no citations): 315 words.



DiMaggio, P., & Hargittai, E. (2001). From the ‘digital divide’ to ‘digital inequality’: Studying Internet use as penetration increasesPrinceton: Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University4(1), 4-2.

Guillen, M. F., & Suárez, S. L. (2005). Explaining the global digital divide: Economic, political and sociological drivers of cross-national internet usSocial Forces, 84(2), 681-708.

Reuveny, R. X., & Thompson, W. R. (2007). The North–South divide and international studies: A symposiumInternational Studies Review9(4), 556-564.

Robinson, L., Cotten, S. R., Ono, H., Quan-Haase, A., Mesch, G., Chen, W. & Stern, M. J. (2015). Digital inequalities and why they matterInformation, Communication & Society18(5), 569-582.


“The Digital Difference: A Comparison” sources

(n.d). Essential guide to Papua New Guinea. Lonely Planet. [Accessed: 26/02/18]

(n.d) Papua New Guinea. Internet World Stats. [Accessed: 26/02/18]

(2016, July 15). Papua New Guinea’s internet is gaining speed. Oxford Business Group. [Accessed: 26/02/18]

Jackson, M. (2017, May 22). ONS 2017 Update – 4.8 Million UK Adults Have Never Used the Internet. ISPreview. [Accessed: 26/02/18]


Further information

Cullen, R. (2001). Addressing the digital divideOnline information review25(5), 311-320.

Talbot, D. (2016, December 16). The Unacceptable Persistence of the Digital Divide. MIT Technology Review. [Accessed: 26/02/18]

Van Deursen, A. J., & Helsper, E. J. (2017). Collateral benefits of Internet use: Explaining the diverse outcomes of engaging with the Internet. New Media & Society.



13 thoughts on “The Hardest Gap to Bridge: Digital Differences

  1. This was a really interesting read. I particularly enjoyed how you linked back to the FutureLearns MOOC with your comments to demonstrate the network of learning being developed. In terms of digital inequalities as you have discussed, you have mentioned how your life as it currently is would be nigh on impossible without the use of the web – a comparison to those who may not have access to the web in the same way on a global scale. However, have you considered the digital divide in the reverse? We know that lack of access to the internet causes a divide, but there has been some research done to suggest that this itself propagates inequalities further in the offline setting – perhaps making the situation worse than initially thought? An interesting blog post from LSE explores this further:

    Source: Badger, E. (2013). How the Internet Reinforces Inequality in the Real World. [online] CityLab. Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2018].


    1. Hi, Thomas!

      Thank you for reading my post! In regards to your question, I agree with your statement. A quick example that comes to mind is the inability of a person to find a job because they do not know how to search for opportunities online. This is definitely an issue that deep down, I believe arises from the lack of digital education offered to many people. This could be caused by the visitor/resident theory, by macro factors or just the personal choice of the user not to use the Internet in those four aspects mentioned by Ellen Helsper.

      Even though this is happening a lot, I am positive when it comes to change, as the population becomes more and more curious of what they can obtain using the online world, while many people are going to become digitally trained to make the most of the Internet.



      1. I like the example you mention of finding a job – that seems particularly applicable to us at the moment! The lack of a basic digital education, especially from the start of education, could be addressed much better to maybe alleviate this issue.


  2. Hi Iarina,

    Great post – the variety of colourful images spread throughout the piece made it a real joy to read.

    You accept that there is a digital divide, and were shocked at the lack of change in the “last 3 years”, so I was wondering if you think the adoption of the internet as a human right would be an effective means of bridging the gap?

    There has been lots of discussion on the topic, for instance the report of Frank La Rue for the United Nations (Available here ) and also various media reports. Personally, I am apprehensive, but would love to hear your thoughts!



    1. Hi, Tom!

      I’m happy you enjoyed my post!

      I don’t think the Internet will ever become a human right. It requires extensive infrastructure, technology available to everyone and education on how to use it. Some parts of the world still do not have water, electricity or food available, so I’m predicting that the efforts of ensuring human rights to people will not go towards the Internet. One notable example is from my own country, where they bought fiber optics in a village with no electricity, where people usually use petrol to fuel electric generators for a few hours a day to watch TV (article translated in English here).

      Therefore, I think there can be other ways to bridge the gap, but unfortunately there are still many obstacles to overcome before we will be able to do it effectively.



      1. Hi Iarina,

        Thanks so much for the link to that article. It’s the kind of thing I’d never have stumbled upon due to the language difference, and I really enjoyed reading it.

        Does seem rather backwards that there was provision for internet, but no electricity. There are certainly more important infrastructural priorities, but I hope, at some point in the future, that the Internet could be at the top of the list and be recognised as a human right!

        One can but dream!



      2. I agree, we should definitely aspire to offer the opportunity to be informed and connected to everyone in the world. We have a long way to go, but I am also confident that sometime in the future this will become a reality.



  3. Hi Iarina,

    Truly excellent blog post! I loved how original all your graphics were and how effectively you used them to illustrate your experience of the ‘digital divide’. I especially liked how you referred back to your comments on the ‘Living and Learning in the Network Age’ for further insight!

    I have a question regarding digital inequality. You referenced DiMaggio and how some may use the Internet in different ways and I’m asking you why you think that is? Is it due to ability and knowledge as well as having general access to it? DiMaggio has a separate article 3 years on from the one used in this post which discusses how ones ability can largely shape their online experience:

    Please respond soon and keep it up!



    1. Hi, Adrian!

      Thank you very much, I am glad that I managed to share my experiences well.

      People may experience the Internet differently because of their interests, career or digital skills. I, for example, use the Internet differently than my grandfather. He speaks very limited English, while I’m a fluent speaker. He browses the Internet for music and films, while I need it for pretty much everything I do, including entertainment and work. Therefore, our experiences using it, how we obtain information or services on it will be different, and at the end of the day I am the one getting more out of it, because my digital skills are high. This is an inequality because of many macro and personal factors, and the truth is, some of them can definitely be improved just through exposure and learning.



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