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That there is a "digital divide"—which falls between those who have and can afford the latest in technological tools and those who have neither in our society—is indisputable. Virtual Inequality redefines the issue as it explores the cascades of that divide, which involve access, skill, political participation, as well as the obvious economics. Computer and Internet access are insufficient without the skill to use the technology, and economic opportunity and political participation provide primary justification for realizing that this inequality is a public problem and not simply a matter of private misfortune.

Defying those who say the divide is growing smaller, this volume, based on a unique national survey that includes data from over 1800 respondents in low-income communities, shows otherwise. In addition to demonstrating why disparities persist in such areas as technological abilities, the survey also shows that the digitally disadvantaged often share many of the same beliefs as their more privileged counterparts. African-Americans, for instance, are even more positive in their attitudes toward technology than whites are in many respects, contrary to conventional wisdom. The rigorous research on which the conclusions are based is presented accessibly and in an easy-to-follow manner.

Not content with analysis alone, nor the untangling of the complexities of policymaking, Virtual Inequality views the digital divide compassionately in its human dimensions and recommends a set of practical and common-sense policy strategies. Inequality, even in a virtual form this book reminds us, is unacceptable and a situation that society is compelled to address.

This analysis of how the ability to participate in society online affects political and economic opportunity finds that technology use matters in wages and income and civic participation and voting.

Just as education has promoted democracy and economic growth, the Internet has the potential to benefit society as a whole. Digital citizenship, or the ability to participate in society online, promotes social inclusion. But statistics show that significant segments of the population are still excluded from digital citizenship. The authors of this book define digital citizens as those who are online daily. By focusing on frequent use, they reconceptualize debates about the digital divide to include both the means and the skills to participate online. They offer new evidence (drawn from recent national opinion surveys and Current Population Surveys) that technology use matters for wages and income, and for civic engagement and voting. Digital Citizenship examines three aspects of participation in society online: economic opportunity, democratic participation, and inclusion in prevailing forms of communication. The authors find that Internet use at work increases wages, with less-educated and minority workers receiving the greatest benefit, and that Internet use is significantly related to political participation, especially among the young. The authors examine in detail the gaps in technological access among minorities and the poor and predict that this digital inequality is not likely to disappear in the near future. Public policy, they argue, must address educational and technological disparities if we are to achieve full participation and citizenship in the twenty-first century.

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