4.1 Digital divides in a global society (Intro)

Taking Control, Making a Difference Sessions 4.1 Digital divides in a global society (Intro)

Digitalization and globalization go hand-in-hand. Digital technologies are increasingly essential for participation in the global economy, travel, education, and more. Despite the widespread adoption of all things digital, not everyone has equal access and opportunity. These differences create divides that are often made more pronounced by existing inequalities based on gender, race, class, language, culture, and more.

Digital divides show up everywhere, from access to smartphones and computers, to digital literacy skills, lack of online information in your own language, and the affordability of the devices we need to take advantage of digitalization.

Bridging these digital divides requires eliminating barriers of access and affordability to create more inclusive digital spaces. In this session we will address the root causes of digital divides and look at ways to overcome them. Together we can foster greater digital equity.



After this session you will be able to:

  • Understanding what digital divides are and how they impact digital justice.
  • Explaining different kinds of digital divides and how they relate to each other.
  • Taking steps to identify and bridge digital divides in your own life and work.


Digital Divides

Digital divides are disparities in access to and usage of digital technologies among different groups of people, based on factors such as socioeconomic status, geographic location, gender, race, or education level, among other factors. Addressing digital divides is essential for promoting digital justice and ensuring equitable opportunities for all in the digital age. For example, in low- and middle-income countries, women are 20% less likely than men to use mobile internet. This gap translates to 300 million fewer women using mobile internet. (Source: Maryville University Online, a branch of Maryville University, a private institute of higher education in the United States)


Digitalization is an enormous catalyst for increasing interdependence of people, cultures, and countries. This includes the growing exchange of goods, services, information, and ideas. Digital technologies accelerate this flow, giving rise to both new opportunities and threats. People can benifit from new employment opportunities, learn more about other parts of the world, and access new economic markets. Drawbacks, however, can be significant, including the destruction of local cultures and languages, and unsustainable consumerism. For example, approximately 12% of the global goods trade is now conducted via e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Alibaba. (Source: McKinsey Global Institute. McKinsey & Company is a global management consulting firm that provides advisory services to businesses, governments, and institutions.)


Digital technologies are powerful, and give them people who control them significant political, economic, and military influence. This power directly influences who has access to digital technologies, who benefits (and suffers) from them, and who is excluded. Gaining control over our digital lives and fully participating in digital spaces is essential for overcoming digital divides in a global society. For instance, Google handles over 90% of global search queries, and Facebook (Meta) has nearly 3 billion monthly active users​. (Source: AI Now Institute, a research organization based at New York University, focused on studying the social implications of AI).


Not all digital technologies are created equal. In fact, most services, devices, and platforms come with significant accessibility barriers. Simply navigating the web can be difficult with the poor performance of screen readers, low-contrast colours and visuals, complex language and navigation, and so on. Digital services and platforms may not always be accessible on older devices, or compatible across providers. Financial barriers or lack of adequate infrastructure also limits who can participate in digital spaces and how. For example, in Africa, only 28.2% of the population has internet access, compared to 85.2% in Europe, highlighting the significant accessibility problem. (Source International Telecommunications Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for issues related to information and communication technologies.)


    Many people around the world struggle to afford basic digital devices and related technologies. High costs proportionate to a person’s income can create barriers for already marginalized groups online. Promoting affordability involves subsidizing or reducing the cost of digital infrastructure, devices, and internet services to ensure equitable access for all. In many parts of the world, the cost of internet services is prohibitively high. In some developing countries, the price of 1GB of mobile data can be as much as 7-8% of the average monthly income, compared to less than 1% in developed countries. (Source: The Alliance for Affordable Internet A4AI, a global coalition working to make broadband access affordable for everyone.)


    You’re doing well taking on the big issues related to digital divides. You now know about some of the biggest factors that create and sustain digital inequities. Now it’s time to go a bit deeper. Click Complete Lesson to move to the next part of this session. There you will learn from experts from around the world and go deeper with a case study.