The “Digital divide”: a critical rereading of term, ideological framing, policies
In the recent years, the literature about the digital divide has made an important breakthrough: The concept of the digital divide has been very successful, in particular in relation with the relative newness of the term, that was developed only ten years ago (Sartori, 2006). Even more interesting is the ‘pliability’ of the term: It is seen to be transformed in a kind of discourse (close to Foucault’s concept) that acts as a premise for governments, institutions, associations, companies. The flexibility of the term seems to have transformed (and almost emptied out) the concept of the digital divide: If on the one hand the academic reflections are gradually moving away from the term (establishing more complex concepts, Warschauer, 2003), on the other hand the political world still ‘uses’ the term, disregarding the theoretical debate on the process of changing the meaning of the concept (van Dijk, 2005; Barzilai-Nahon, 2006). The question then remains: Is it still useful to keep the term ‘digital divide’ if its meanings have changed, and have been distorted? Only an ‘unmasking’ or demystification would enable recognizing the true (or, the more efficient, useful, comprehensive) policies of reduction of the digital divide. This builds on the need to combine these policies with broader reflections about (and actions against) the increase of inequality in the global, digital, network society. Without a deep consideration of the structural unequalness of contemporary societies, only the economic dimension of efficiency, progress and development would be emphasized. This kind of utilization of the digital divide term, in a reductive frame of economical policy, could be very dangerous and counterproductive for the establishment of more equitable societies (Feenberg, 2002; van Dijk, 2006). This thesis, after an overview of the evolution of the concept of the digital divide (Iannone, 2007) gives the overview of the most recent literature about digital inequality (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Celeste and Shafer, 2004). On the one hand it frames the literature of the digital divide in a broader reflection about economic and social inequality in the contemporary world; and on the other hand it relates this literature to an overview of policies and strategies (both public and private) aimed at the reduction of the digital divide, in particular in the EU (Milner, 2006).