Digital Divide Research, Achievements and Shortcomings

van Dijk, Jan A.G.M
Poetics (Amsterdam)

From the end of the 1990s onwards the digital divide, commonly defined as the gap between those who have and do not have access to computers and the Internet, has been a central issue on the scholarly and political agenda of new media development. This article makes an inventory of 5 years of digital divide research (2000–2005).
The article focuses on three questions. (1) To what type of inequality does the digital divide concept refer? (2) What is new about the inequality of access to and use of ICTs as compared to other scarce material and immaterial resources? (3) Do new types of inequality exist or rise in the information society?
The results of digital divide research are classified under four successive types of access: motivational, physical, skills and usage. A shift of attention from physical access to skills and usage is observed. In terms of physical access the divide seems to be closing in the most developed countries; concerning digital skills and the use of applications the divide persists or widens.
Among the shortcomings of digital divide research are its lack of theory, conceptual definition, interdisciplinary approach, qualitative research and longitudinal research.