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Digital Knowledge Management Artifacts and the Growing Digital Divide: A New Research Agenda

Digital Knowledge Management Artifacts and the Growing Digital Divide: A New Research Agenda
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Author(s): Ioannis Tarnanas (Kozani University of Applied Science, Greece) and Vassilios Kikis (Kozani University of Applied Science, Greece)
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 9
Source title: Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Second Edition
Source Author(s)/Editor(s): Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, D.B.A. (Information Resources Management Association, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch180

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Abstract

That portion of the Internet known as the World Wide Web has been riding an exponential growth curve since 1994 (Network Wizards, 1999; Rutkowski, 1998), coinciding with the introduction of NCSA’s graphically based software interface Mosaic for “browsing” the World Wide Web (Hoffman, Novak, & Chatterjee 1995). Currently, over 43 million hosts are connected to the Internet worldwide (Network Wizards, 1999). In terms of individual users, somewhere between 40 to 80 million adults (eStats, 1999) in the United States alone have access to around 800 million unique pages of content (Lawrence & Giles, 1999), globally distributed on arguably one of the most important communication innovations in history. Yet even as the Internet races ambitiously toward critical mass, some social scientists have begun to examine carefully the policy implications of current demographic patterns of Internet access and usage (Hoffman & Novak, 1998; Hoffman, Kalsbeek, & Novak, 1996; Hoffman, Novak, & Venkatesh, 1997; Katz & Aspden, 1997; Wilhelm, 1998). Looming large is the concern that the Internet may not scale economically (Keller, 1996), leading to what Lloyd Morrisett, the former president of the Markle Foundation, has called a “digital divide” between the information “haves” and “have-nots.” For example, although almost 70% of the schools in this country have at least one computer connected to the Internet, less than 15% of classrooms have Internet access (Harmon, 1997). Not surprisingly, access is not distributed randomly, but correlated strongly with income and education (Coley, Cradler, & Engel 1997). A recent study of Internet use among college freshman (Sax, Astin, Korn, & Mahoney 1998) found that nearly 83% of all new college students report using the Internet for school work, and almost two-thirds use e-mail to communicate. Yet, closer examination suggests a disturbing disparity in access. While 90.2% of private college freshman use the Internet for research, only 77.6% of students entering public black colleges report doing so. Similarly, although 80.1% of private college freshman use e-mail regularly, only 41.4% of students attending black public colleges do. Further, although numerous studies (e.g., CyberAtlas, 1999; Maraganore & Morrisette, 1998) suggest that the gender gap in Internet use appears to be closing over time and that Internet users are increasingly coming from the ranks of those with lower education and income (Pew Research Center, 1998), the perception persists that the gap for race is not decreasing (Abrams, 1997). We now raise a series of points for further discussion. We believe these issues represent the most pressing unanswered questions concerning access and the impact of the digital divide on the emerging digital economy. This article is intended to stimulate discussion among scholars and policymakers interested in how differences in Internet access and use among different segments in our society affect their ability to participate and reap the rewards of that participation in the emerging digital economy. In summary, we have reviewed the most recent research investigating the relationship of race to Internet access and usage over time. Our objective is twofold: (1) to stimulate an informed discussion among scholars and policymakers interested in the issue of diversity on the Internet, and 2) to propose a research agenda that can address the many questions raised by this and related research.

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