Covid-19, Sociology

SOCIOLOGICAL CHALLENGES OF DIGITAL DIVIDE: IMPACT OF LOCKDOWN

Impact of lockdown on Digital Divide:

We humans are presently surviving in Network Society (the term coined by renowned sociologist, Manual Castells) which is driven by global networking, information, knowledge, technology, competence, and surveillance. Since the inception of Information Technology revolution and computing technology, the impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has been profound intervening in every sphere of network society.

The concept of ‘Digital Divide’, however was conceived much later, when it was widely observed that digital technology was not uniformly accessed by all, and the divide in access to digital technology has created wide disparities in the society on several counts. The issue became increasingly noticed as the divide increased with every development of digital technology, from broadband connections, to WIFI, smart phones, and 4G connections. However, besides producing a positive impact on society in terms of effective networking and communication facilities for all people, ICT has also produced negative impact on society  one of them being Digital Divide!!

Digital Divide involves the lag between those individuals, groups, businesses and geographical areas at different socio-economic levels with regards to their opportunities to access ICTs and Internet for various purposes in everyday life (Brousseau E. & Curien.N, 2007). It actually refers to the division of society into two groups  between those who are economically able to benefit from the economy (haves) and those who are excluded from the beneficiary (have nots). This shows that digital divide perpetuates the class based exploitation of society (as referred by Karl Marx) and is a major product of socio-economic inequalities in society.

Sociological implications of Digital Divide during Lockdown:

The concept of digital divide is mainly based on two more concepts: democracy and market economy. It varies locally, regionally, nationally and internationally among various countries and their inhabitants. The concept of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ plays an important role here. At this present juncture of social change our society is very much dependent on digital platform and thus, is making the society into two categories again- the information rich and information poor (Dragulanescu 2002). Internet connection is playing an important role here. People who have proper internet connection can be a part of this digital society and people who do not have the access properly are lacking behind in this race of post-modern era. A very important variable should be noticed here. People who does not have proper internet connection does not always necessarily imply that they do not have proper economic resources to buy it.

Despite having economic resources people may not have proper internet access. It depends on the region where they live. That means who do not have the economic resources were already there in the category of information poor and now the second category of people joined them who have the economic resources but cannot have the access of proper internet because of the regional internet problems. Now, we all can have a rough idea of the ratio of information rich and information poor in this present situation. It has been seen that women and aged group of our society are vulnerable in this context of getting information poor. Thus, a new concept of ‘poverty’ encroaches our society that is not strictly bounded by Marxian concept of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

This digital divide also divides the countries in terms of information rich and information poor, the distinction including developed and developing countries. The sphere of social interaction is going through a massive change with this new emerging ‘must do’ of social distancing. The concept takes a critical shape when we think about human being as a social animal and being human with social distancing! It is thus reflecting on the mental and physiological health of not only of a particular human being but society at large.

The digital divide is very quickly engulfing the sectors like education, health and religion and thus making a democratic country difficult to maintain its democracy where these are the basic rights of a human being. Situation becomes worse when we go to villages from mega cities. Thus, our society is in a constant threat of becoming imbalanced in its digital platform that is now dominating and moulding our entire society for a new change. We are not only making ‘history’, we are experiencing ‘history’ at the same time. So, it is our responsibility to try to reduce this digital divide to maintain the democracy in its every possible way.

Impact of Lockdown on various sectors of India:

Over the last few weeks, government responses to arrest the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have brought massive disruptions to Indians’ economic lives. The people feeling those disruptions most viscerally include the millions of workers left jobless by shuttered restaurants, hotels, and retail stores, plummeting air and rail travel, and emptied museums, casinos, and sports stadiums. Among them the daily wage earners and migrant workers are most affected. Due to lockdown, they are all stranded in different cities, far from family feeling helpless.

The plight of these individuals and their families motivated the administration to enact significant increases to unemployment benefits, assistance to small businesses, and direct payments to individuals working in private concerns. Now, however, leaders most prominently at the local level must provide affected workers with information and connections to not only federal assistance, but also local emergency “bridge” programs that can help them while they await support. The vulnerable sectors that are being affected by Lockdown include daily wage earners, migrant labourers, retail, and even railways.

Until now one knows what is digital divide and how it differentiates between the haves and have nots. One has to keep in mind that major migrant and daily wage earners reside in metropolitan cities in India. This digital divide has made them more secluded and ostracized from mainstream society as they are not economically well-off to use the digital medium. The advantages digitalization is providing to the learned or economically strong people are incomparable with the miseries which these workers and labourers are encountering due to the pandemic crisis.

We have to keep in mind that major migrant and daily wage earners are found in metro cities of India

  1. MAJOR METROPOLITAN AREAS CONTAIN HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF WORKERS IN IMMEDIATE-RISK INDUSTRIES

Transportation, retail, hotels, and restaurants/bars are ubiquitous industries in and around Indian cities. As a result, large numbers of residents in major metro areas rely on immediate-risk industries for employment.

  1. VULNERABLE WORKERS ARE DISPROPORTIONATELY YOUNG, FEMALE, AND POSSESS LESS FORMAL EDUCATION 

Sectors such as retail, food service, and arts/entertainment have traditionally provided gateway jobs for younger people getting started in their careers, people working part time or seasonally, and people with lower levels of educational attainment. These industries face immediate risks from the pandemic, resulting in a set of vulnerable workers with a distinct demographic profile. 

  1. VULNERABLE WORKERS ARE MORE LIKELY TO EXPERIENCE ECONOMIC INSECURITY THAN OTHER WORKERS 

The nature of immediate-risk industries, and the demographic profiles of their workforce, combine to result in vulnerable workers experiencing below-average earnings and greater overall economic insecurity.

Lockdown and Digital Divide in Education sector:

Certain social implications are involved in the concept of digital divide which is mainly caused by socio-economic inequality to access the information and communication technologies for the purpose of studies, banking facilities and even leisure. This lockdown phase has brought forth various problems due to digital divide for various sectors of the society  one of the sectors which have been affected by this socio-economic technological inequality is the education sector.

With the entire world coming to stagnation due to the lockdown caused by the pandemic crisis of COVID-19, most of the educational institutions (schools, colleges, and universities) have tried their best to keep the classes alive through the virtual teaching-learning pedagogy.

While there are educational institutions which are trying their best to conduct online classes through various technological medium, some students from remote areas studying in government schools/colleges/ universities have become victims of the socio-economic technological inequality due to their poor socio-economic background. For these economically backward students, attending classes over the digital medium is like a dream which can never be fulfilled in reality!  An icing on the cake is the poor quality of cyber-infrastructure of the educational institutions of the public sector. Such situation mostly does not prevail in rural areas where a handful of the students can access the internet since they neither possess proper internet connection, nor are they economically able to own a desktop or laptop. Such lack of proper facilities of cyber infrastructure of the schools, colleges and universities of rural areas has posed the problem of Digital Divide faced by students. Thereby, proper initiative needs to be taken in the direction of Digital Inclusion of education so that the students of the educational institutions of both public and private sectors can access proper education, devoid of being stratified and divided by the digital economy.

Contributors:
    1. Dr. Somdatta Mukherjee
    2. Ms Nabamita De
    3. Ms Kahini Palit

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