Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Digital Divide Update: The Rhetoric Finally Matches the Reality

The pessimistic outlook regarding the diffusion of these new technologies was based on the simple fact that not everyone in America immediately gained access to them. That is, some citizens (wealthier and more educated individuals, primarily) gained access to new high-tech gadgets and services before others (lower income households in particular). This is hardly a shocking phenomenon. Nor should it ever have been cause for great concern.

First of all, this class of technologies hardly ranks in the same category as other "life essential" goods, such as heating, indoor plumbing, or electricity. Not every American needs, or even necessarily wants, a computer in their home or a connection to the Internet. Second, it has been the case historically that wealthier households act as "early adopters" (read: guinea pigs) for most new technologies, and if the technologies prove useful, they spread to the masses and their cost falls accordingly. The data shows that this is the case with computers and Internet access.

Finally, unlike many other technologies, it is unlikely America will ever witness anything close to 100 percent household penetration for computers or Net access.

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