First, the digital divide refers to the unequal distribution of information and communication technologies (ICTs) across and within societies. This includes not only access to but also usage of computers and the internet. This divide can be on a larger scale, between developed and developing nations, or on a smaller scale, between various socio-economic and socially stratified groups within one country. The term digital divide became more regularly used in the later-1990s, with its beginnings found in news articles and political speeches, most notably in a speech by President Bill Clinton. It’s also important to note that differences in technology and their social implications have been recognized before the term digital divide came about, but the term represents a useful label in the discourse surrounding this topic.
Second, through understanding the origins and definitional basis of the digital divide, the implications and effects of the digital divide on inclusive sustainable development can be examined. According to an article by the World Economic Forum (WEF), four billion people, as of 2016, do not have access to the internet. The WEF lays out four main reasons why the digital divide persists: (1) lack of infrastructure, (2) high cost of devices and connectivity, (3) education and cultural issues, and (4) language barriers. Due to the complex and multidimensional nature of addressing the digital divide, governments, companies, local and international organizations and civil society members are working on increasing peoples’ access to ICTs. What does this all mean for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Many leaders in the Economic and Social Council of the UN discussed how closing the digital gap is vital to attaining sustainable development in a Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation in May 2019. Many leaders in this Forum discuss the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism and its effectiveness. According to Liu Zhenmin, in the wake of the 2030 Agenda, the United Nations must help people, especially youth, harness technology, in order to implement the SDGs. Romain Murenzi, the Executive Director of the World Academy of Sciences, stresses that focuses on technology and innovation can and will ensure inclusivity and close the gaps between “haves” and “have nots.” The international cooperation and multilateral action to address and tackle the digital divide is promising. Closing the gap in digital access and usage will push the world closer to achieving the SDGs and minimizing inequality.