Digitally Divided Canada
Presently, the world experiences a major and radical transformation primarily because of information and technological revolution. Almost everyday, history witnesses the birth of highly sophisticated gadgets and equipments that have literally altered the lives of many individuals. Nowadays, the hindrances brought about by geographical, spatial and time constraints, no longer affect mankind. In a blink of an eye, tasks which usually take several days or months to be accomplished can be readily addressed with just a single click.
Evidently, Marshall McLuhan’s notion of the global village (Baran & Davis, 2006) is no longer a theoretical argument—the global village has readily developed, thus making each and every individual, regardless of their age, social status, race and ethnicity more connected and interactive than ever. Relatively, the establishment of the information superhighway did not only increase the connectedness of different groups and communities. More than anything else, such situation is instrumental in opening the doors for various opportunities for growth and development within the national level.
Canada for example, experienced a major economic shift with the introduction of Information and Communications Technology, or more popularly known s ICT (“Canada’s Journey,” 2003). A country which was once heavily dependent on its marine and agricultural resources, is now capitalizing on the benefits and advantages of their so-called “knowledge economy (“Canada’s Journey,” 2003). ” As a matter of fact, the country is considered as one of the most competitive forces within the information technology industry (“Canada’s Journey,” 2003).
However, while it is true that technology fueled Canada’s economic expansion, one of the pressing issues that the country needs to confront is digital divide. Digital divide is a serious social concern that cannot be simply described as a battle between those who are considered as technologically rich and technologically poor. More than anything else, the implications of digital divide tend to contribute to the worsening of the social, economic and cultural gap. These kinds of division are most especially felt between rural and urban settlers.
If technology is said to govern man’s life, clearly, those who cannot fully avail of modern tools and equipment are also denied of exploiting technology’s benefits. Evidently, those that are living in the rural area are placed in very uncompromising situations in as far as being “digitally-connected” is concerned. Given this situation at hand, one may readily ask, how does digital divide affect the marginalization of rural settlers in Canada? For this particular discussion, the statistics presented in the Canadian Social Trends and The Daily was primarily used.
Information in such sites is highly significant since it basically provides a wider view on how the whole Canadian populace utilizes the internet. However, the above-mentioned sites do not only dabble with internet usage alone. They also provided substantial discussions regarding the availability of personal computers in both rural and urban Canada. On the other hand, another major source that is used to support the arguments of this report is the E-government studies of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In OECD, however, the facts presented are comparisons of internet usage in the global scale. Such information is therefore necessary to be included in this analysis since it presents an overview on how far Canada has fared when it comes to global connectedness and how its current situation contributes to the digital divide experienced by the country. In understanding digital divide in Canada, it is highly important to first understand how information technology works in the country.
It is also impetus to know the percentages of individuals who can readily access to have a substantial articulation of the matter. In addition to that, the inputs from the OECD contribute in a much deeper examination of how digital divide affects not only Canada, but also in other parts of the world. This Mc Laren (2002) discussed that mostly of the individuals who own computers are located in Census Metropolitan Areas (CMA) and Census Agglomerations (CA). This is in stark contrast to those who are residing in rural and small towns.
More than 50 to 60% of those living in CMAs and CAs have computers at home, whereas, only 40 to 50% of those in the rural areas posses such equipment (please refer to Figure 1 of Appendix). There are two reasons that can possibly explain this particular situation. First, it can be argued in here that urban settings can easily adapt to major technological shifts and transformations. This would not come as much of a surprise since major cities and areas are considered as the center of commerce and trade. In an area looming with various business opportunities, the use of an efficient technological platform is a must.
Business endeavors that aspire to be globally competitive must take advantage of technology’s positive effects and contributions. Thus, individuals in this area become more aware about the uses and purposes of any technologically-related material. Another reason behind that is the high purchasing power of urban settlers. Suppliers of high-end technological products readily targets consumers in the city since they know that highly urbanized areas can provide them with a solid market base. On the other hand, as for the case of rural residents, digital connectedness seems to fall short.
This primarily stems from the existing income discrepancies between the two groups. McLaren (2002) found out that those who earn less than $20,000 in rural areas can hardly afford to have their own computer. Only 20% (please refer to Figure 2 of Appendix) of rural settlers are capable of purchasing personal computers. However, for urban dwellers who also earn less than $20,000, more than 30% (please refer to Figure 2 of Appendix) of the population has their own computers . The same situation is reflected as for the case of those who are earning beyond $20,000.
Based from a critical perspective, if Canadians in rural are literally outnumbered when it comes to having access to computers, then it is also relative that is harder for them to acquire internet access as well. While it is true that individuals from both rural and urban areas tend to have the same income, the availability of computers in cities is more prevalent compared to small towns. This means that an urban dweller, despite of the fact that he or she earns less than $20,000, can still own a computer primarily because in the city, one can always find cheaper alternatives.
Computer providers in such areas are engaged into a stiff competition that compels them to lower their prices so that they can tap their potential markets. On the other hand, the availability of computer suppliers in rural areas is less than those in highly urbanized ones. Competition is hardly felt and therefore, these suppliers can demand their prices. Relatively, computers sold in rural sectors are literally more expensive than those that are found in the city.
Given this aspect at hand, if Canadians in rural areas cannot avail of the basic equipment or material used in connecting via the internet, then it would be harder for them to participate into the digital world. It would be more difficult for these individuals to be updated on recent technological trends and developments. In addition to that, the lack of computers also prevents these individuals from making the most of Canada’s robust knowledge economy. Also, it is important to note that computers nowadays cannot only assist Canadians in connecting through the internet.
Computers are also instrumental in making work processes and transactions much faster and easier as compared to manual work. One must always bear in mind that digital divide does not merely focus on the capacity to connect online; it is also the ability of owning the required technological platforms or materials. In the meantime, in as far as internet access is concerned, thus, it would not come as too much of a surprise of urban households are more connected. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2003), from 1999 to 2001, 33.
6% of rural homes in Canada have internet connection, whereas a total of 44. 4% of urban settlers enjoy internet services (please see of Appendix). There is no doubt that the internet is a good source of knowledge and information. Relevant data and statistics found in the World Wide Web contribute to empowering and educating individuals. However, with the current situation of rural Canada, they are evidently left behind. Take for example the case of students which primarily uses the internet for research aid and purposes.
The ones located in urban areas enjoy the benefits of acquiring significant facts and figures that cannot be ordinarily seen in local libraries and other academic sources. Individuals in the urban areas are also able to exploit government services via the internet. It is also important to note that online business opportunities are easily accessed by urban residents since they have the tool to do so. Apparently, the digital divide tends to exclude individuals from the rural sector from using technology to further empower themselves and seek for other opportunities for growth and development.
There is an evident inequality in digital divide that basically originates from the unequal distribution of wealth and power. More than anything else, it should be always remembered that only those who have access to a wide array of providers and are financially adequate to participate into the digital arena, are the ones who are most likely to benefit from them. Relatively, these two conditions (access to providers and financial adequacy) are commonly found in metropolitan areas. Income disparity is indeed a key factor in the proliferation of digital divide and marginalization of rural Canada.
As a matter of fact, one of the primary reasons that prohibit Canadians in rural areas from utilizing the internet is the “costs” associated with it (McLaren, 2002). The other reason corresponds to the absence of necessary skills and training (McLaren, 2002). In addition to that the geographical economic conditions of rural sectors in Canada are also important factors in analyzing digital divide and its implications. Transforming small towns into a digitally active community translates to building the necessary infrastructures.
Thus, in as far as internet and communication providers are concerned; an area should be highly feasible for business operations and profitability before they finally consider the idea of building internet-related structures (Siegan & Walzer, 2003). Unfortunately, if the concerned area does not qualify to the business needs of providers, then digital connectedness is less likely to grow and flourish. Not unless the Canadian government creates yet another solid and concrete plan to establish technological infrastructures in rural domains, then people living in these areas would remain digitally left behind.
The effects of digital divide in rural Canada however cannot be only felt on the economic disadvantages of rural residents. Aside from the tacit or unconscious information monopoly of those that are technologically rich, there is also an apparent exclusion of the technologically inept from participating in issues that require utmost concerns (Jones, 2003). For how can somebody participate if he or she is not well-informed? Aside from that, rural residents are somehow denied of articulating their interests, views and opinions.
It is no secret that the internet provides forums and sites wherein participants can express their sentiments and generate possible solutions. It is through the net that groups with similar orientations converge. However, it is pretty difficult for rural settlers to be involved if in the first place, they are not that digitally connected. Another thing to be considered is that the digital divide tends to delimit rural Canada from availing the services of the government on an easier pace (Marshall, Taylor & Yu, 2003). The government use of internet is indeed commendable.
However, this would be still useless if not the majority of the populace can readily utilize it. Digital divide between urban and rural residents require immediate action. The opportunities brought forth by technology should not be limited into very few hands. If there is anyone who must be technologically empowered, it is no other than the ones in rural settings primarily because they are the ones who really need it, not the other way around. In as much as technological infrastructures are progressively established in urban areas, then more efforts should be exerted in the rural sectors.