Ethical reflections on the digital divide

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society 1 (2):99-108 (2003)
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During the past decade, a fairly extensive literature on the digital divide has emerged. Many reports and studies have provided statistical data pertaining to sociological aspects of ‘the divide,’ while some studies have examined policy issues involving universal service and universal access. Other studies have suggested ways in which the digital divide could be better understood if it were ‘reconceptualized’ in terms of an alternative metaphor, e.g. a ‘divide’ having to do with literacy, power, content, or the environment. However, with the exception of Johnson and Koehler, authors have tended not to question ‐ at least not directly ‐ whether the digital divide is, at bottom, an ethical issue. Many authors seem to assume that because disparities involving access to computing technology exist, issues underlying the digital divide are necessarily moral in nature. Many further assume that because this particular ‘divide’ has to do with something that is digital or technological in nature, it is best understood as a computer ethical issue. The present study, which examines both assumptions, considers four questions: What exactly is the digital divide? Is this ‘divide’ ultimately an ethical issue? Assuming that the answer to is ‘yes,’ is the digital divide necessarily an issue for computer ethics? If the answer to is ‘yes,’ what can/should computer professionals do bridge the digital divide?


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