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The Digital Divide

Video clip synopsis – Trevor Barr reminds us that more than half of the world's population does not have access to the Internet. Stephen Mayne shares his belief that the digital divide will prevent Internet broadcasts from reaching entire populations in the way that television or radio broadcasts can.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 4min 20sec
Tags - changing communities, communication, culture, emerging technologies, identity, Internet, technological change, technology and society, see all tags


The Digital Divide

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About the Video Clip


The interviews with Trevor Barr and Stephen Mayne were recorded for the website From Wireless to Web, produced in 2005.

Trevor Barr is an author, professor and the Director of the Creative Industries Research & Applications Centre at the Queensland University of Technology. Stephen Mayne was the founder and editor of independent news service You can view their full biographies at From Wireless to Web

The website is a selective history of broadcast media in Australia. Decade by decade, from radio and newsreels to TV and the internet, this history shows how the Australian broadcast media developed and shaped the way Australians see themselves.

From Wireless to Web is a Film Australia production in association with Roar Film.

Curriculum Focus


Area of study 3. New media

This area of study focuses on the social consequences of the emergence of new media technologies. The creative implications of new media technologies are considered in the context of the capabilities of the technologies, their relationship with existing media, how they provide alternative means of representation and distribution of media products. Their cultural significance is investigated in terms of how they challenge and alter our perception of the world through the media products that can be produced and consumed, and the changes, possibilities and concerns that may arise in society.

Technological advancements in the media occur within the context of the society in which they are created, developed and used. Such developments, therefore, not only affect media products themselves but also change the processes involved in production, distribution and consumption. In many instances they may also influence the nature of the reality (the event) being depicted by the media; for example, digital imaging techniques have allowed the manipulation (that is altering, distorting, mutating and reshaping) of photographic representations. The convergence of new media technologies, digitisation, computerisation and high-speed data transfer create new pathways for the transmission, exchange and storage of both existing and new forms of information and entertainment. Issues such as ownership, copyright, privacy and access gain new significance in terms of the relationship between media technology and the circulation of representation.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


The Internet has profoundly changed many things in our world. Not since the Industrial Revolution have there been such major changes to the way we keep in touch, work, shop, discover and learn.

The 'have’ versus 'have not’ distinction traditionally refers to 'the great divide’ in our world, between people who have health, wealth, and opportunity versus those who have not. The same distinction can be made about people who have access to the new information and communications technologies (ICT) versus those who have not, and this is referred to as 'the digital divide’.

At first it was thought that the digital divide could be closed by improving infrastructure: by getting Internet connections out to regional, rural and remote Australia; making public-access computers widely available; increasing data speeds; and reducing costs to the consumer. But research is finding other reasons for Australia’s digital divide.

“The Australian digital divide is one of income and social situation, not geography … If you are poor or lack good education it is not going to make much difference how many satellites we put in the sky or how many cables we run past your house. A broader and more complex social policy agenda is going to be necessary if Australia is to seriously address the root causes of its digital divide.” [Jock Given, Communications Law Centre] (qtd Caslon Analytics The Digital Divide)

Those at risk of falling on the 'have not’ side of Australia’s digital divide are the elderly, people with a disability, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, people from non-English-speaking backgrounds, people with low literacy skills, and people from lower socio-economic groups. (Caslon Analytics Net metrics and statistics guide: the Digital Divide)

Since new technologies have become so integral to our world there are fears that exclusion is a major threat to the 'have nots’, whether these are individuals, groups, or whole communities.

Globally, there is a gaping digital divide between the 'information rich’ and 'information poor’. It was estimated in 1991 that “Tokyo had more telephones than the entire African continent” [David Cook, President of CBIS International] (qtd Global Expansion), and, in a statement made in 1994 by MCI executive Greg LeVert, that “half of the people in the world had never made a phone call”. (qtd Shirky Half the World)
In 2003, the World Health Organisation estimated that almost one-third of all humanity suffers poverty, hunger and malnutrition ('Nutrition, Health and Human Rights’), ensuring them a permanent place on the 'have not’ side of the digital divide.

Classroom Activities


Answer the following questions from the Video Clip Context and the video clip itself:

  1. Do you think that there is a digital divide in Australia? Which social groups belong in the haves and which are part of the have-nots?
  2. What do you think might be some of the cultural issues that Trevor Barr mentions?
  3. What solutions can you think of that might help solve the global digital divide?

Further Resources


Go to From Wireless to Web for more about the history of broadcast media in Australia.

Go to Caslon Analytics Profile: Digital Divides in Australia