As the world surges towards modern day progress, our daily lives are increasingly being saturated with information and communication technologies. But not everyone has equal use and access to these technologies. As some move forward and become increasingly savvy, there are those who are left behind, held back by the restraints and barriers of their socioeconomic status.
“This gap is what is known as the ‘Digital Divide’.”
The shift to a virtual way of life due to the Covid-19 pandemic has only widened and deepened this gap, and has made the existence of this divide more painfully obvious to all. As work and education moved to online platforms, those who lacked an Internet connection, devices such as computers, tablets and smartphones, and the know-how, have found themselves struggling on this unequal footing.
What are the implications for those who are not digitally literate? We know for certain that this digital divide contributes to a disproportionate income gap, which contributes towards the suppression of social and economic mobility. Without mobility, we can say that this digital divide also enables the cycle of poverty. Without the working knowledge of technology and access to devices, the individual has no means to participate in the world of technology – a world which most of the globe is actively participating in. Business, trade, and information are dealt with increasingly online, and it is set to increase rapidly.
“Anyone who has lack of access to it will lose out on gaining information and opportunities, and their prospects will be dimmer than the person who does.”
And so, this disparity continues to grow.
For those who fall on the wrong side of the gap, they will soon find that menial jobs like administrative work will now require computer skills. As organisations move from paper to screen, employees will have to make the move as well. For those who find themselves unable to, may be cornered into doing irrelevant jobs, or relegated to doing unskilled labour. As a result, their quality of life, and standard of living, will be lowered.
The digital divide, however, is not merely a problem of access to devices. In Malaysia, there are more smartphone users than we might initially suspect – there are 20 million Malaysians who own a smartphone. But access to a device alone is inadequate. In early 2017, we visited Kampung Katong, an indigenous village deep in the jungles of Gerik, Perak, where we have a community centre – this is where our international volunteer and teacher, Ante, lived and taught. The sheer remoteness of this village is staggering. To reach this village from Kuala Lumpur, you would need to travel by car for four hours, before riding on a boat along a river for another hour and a half.
But a significant number of the villagers had smartphones. They loved taking photos and can operate and understand the basics of the device and what it can do. But does owning a device in itself guarantee that the doors to opportunities and a better future will now fling wide open? Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that. A person can be provided a smartphone and mobile data, but without the knowledge and know-how on how to utilise it, there is just so much a device can do. We all know that a smartphone can provide entertainment through videos, games, and social media. That is a simple benefit of the device. However, with the proper knowledge and expertise, the smartphone can be a gateway to greater opportunities. If you know how to use it to your advantage it can offer so much more – it can connect you to the world beyond your geographical barriers, and it can provide you a source of income.
“We must provide the tools necessary, and also teach people how to use them.”
And because we know that digital literacy can be transformative, the digital divide must be tackled, because with each passing minute, the gap grows wider. We need to address the barriers and break them down. As such, the need to build a bridge to close this divide is both pressing and compelling – and so at SOLS 24/7 we aim to do just that. To be frank, it hasn’t been an easy task, but we do this simply because we must. And that is the only reason.