Virtual Inequality: Beyond the Digital Divide

Philip Calvert (Victoria University of Wellington)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




Calvert, P. (2004), "Virtual Inequality: Beyond the Digital Divide", Online Information Review, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 317-317.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

There have been numerous articles, even books, about the so‐called “digital divide”, but this is one of the very few to be based on hard empirical evidence. For that we need to thank the authors.

Prior to the publication of this book, many writers have used simple data, such as how many people have access to ITCs at home, as the sole measure of a digital divide. They will not be able to do so again. The data here are drawn from a large survey of low‐income respondents in the US contacted by telephone. The survey questions looked for more than simple measures of digital access such as ownership/access to ITCs at home. The most distinguishing element of this research was the use of multivariate regression, a method that allows the researcher to list a number of independent variables (possible explanatory factors), and to identify which ones are statistically significant.

The authors have offered a new interpretation of digital divide theorising by describing four different divides within the one overarching divide. They have called the four sub‐divides the access divide, the skills divide, the economic opportunity divide, and the democratic divide. It is certainly a new presentation of the concept, though it is not so radical that it will create waves in the academic world. Those less likely to have Internet access at home are the poor (for obvious reasons), the less educated (which could become a circular argument), the old, Democrats, African Americans, and the group known collectively as Latinos. The lack of Internet access pretty well reflects computer ownership.

An interesting use of the data is the discussion on “the economic opportunity divide” in which the authors link IT skills with success in the workplace. Two‐thirds of US citizens are convinced that there is a connection between computer skills and economic opportunity. The message of the book is that closing the digital divide will be beneficial both economically and politically.

This is a nicely produced book, with clear type and tables, plus a useful index. I would recommend it highly were it more international in nature. As it is, this is a very useful study to all concerned with information management in the US, unfortunately less so elsewhere.

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