Will tablet PC ease digital divide?
Recently, Apple unveiled a digital textbook, iBooks 2. The technology company announced that it had reached made an agreement with several major textbook publishers in the U.S including DK Publishing and McGraw Hill to sell their digital textbooks for only 15 percent of the original old-school hardcopy version.
This raises the question of whether tablet PCs will be able to bridge the digital divide, which is the gap between those who have effective access to digital technology and those who do not.
The digital divide is a worldwide problem caused by the widening economic gap caused by globalization. It results in huge socio-economic differences in the information society where accessibility is one of the important necessities to be successful.
In November 2005, the “$100 laptop” project was suggested as a solution to the digital divide at a world summit on information society held in Tunis but the problem still remains unsolved.
Some people including those who work for the technology company claim that the handheld PC is the breakthrough which can completely bridge the digital divide with its state-of-the-art technology.
They say that the Tablet PC with its digital textbooks function will give everyone an equal chance at education. However, I believe that there are too many limitations.
Firstly, it is unrealistic for everyone in the world to have effective accessibility to Tablet PCs. On the domestic level, the lower-income groups cannot afford the machine and prerequisites such as electricity and Internet access. Some people still live from hand-to-mouth and do not have the economic capability to have Wi-Fi which many of us take for granted.
Problems arise on the international level too. The social infrastructure of some countries does not allow the use of digital devices. For example, even if an individual can afford an iPad, the machine itself is no use in Africa where there is no electricity and Internet connections.
Secondly, it is unfeasible to equip millions of people with the handheld PC as it will take much time, energy and money to teach them to use it.
The Tablet PC offers numerous interactive features such as search engines, videos, study cards, and text highlighting. The digital divide cannot be bridged even with everyone having the machine if some people cannot use its features properly.
The application of handheld PCs in public education especially seems unrealistic because many old teachers will have trouble using digital textbooks in classrooms.
In many developed countries, a new digital divide is happening. While statistics say that most of the people in these countries have Internet access, only the urban rich have truly high-speed connections. As education, jobs, entertainment, shopping and even health care move online, those with restricted and slow wireless access are at risk of being left behind. This shows that the problem of the digital divide is unlikely to be solved completely and will remain in a changed form.
It is an undeniable truth that Tablet PCs have increased the accessibility to information and communication technology. It is possible that the digital device will reduce the widening gap of the digital divide.
However, as I mentioned before, it is unrealistic to believe that the handheld PC will completely get rid of it. The digital divide will remain as a serious problem causing a vicious cycle with widening economic gaps.
As the digital divide is a worldwide phenomenon, both international and national efforts to analyze the cause and to find a solution are required rather than blindly hoping that Tablet PCs will solve everything someday.
Kim Na-kyung is attending Sookmyung Girls’ High School in Seoul.