Kolkata, August 3, 2020: In what proved to be the perfect start to the IAMCR – India Webinar Series on Media and Communication Research, organized jointly by International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) and the School of Media, Communication & Fashion (SMCF) under Adamas University (AU) in Kolkata, globally renowned researcher and academic Anna Gladkova delivered a masterful presentation on global digital divide on Monday.
Anna is the Leading Researcher and Director of International Affairs Office at the Faculty of Journalism under Lomonosov Moscow State University. She is also the IAMCR Ambassador in Russia. The session was moderated by Dr. Usha Raman, a professor at the Department of Communication under University of Hyderabad (UoH). She also happens to be the Vice President of IAMCR. The joint convenors for the webinar series are Prof. Ujjwal K Chowdhury, the Pro Vice Chancellor and the Dean of SMCH under Adamas University in Kolkata, and Dr. Uma Shankar Pandey, an Associate Professor and the Head of Department of Journalism and Mass Communication under Surendranath College for Women in Kolkata. Dr. Pandey is also the Indian Ambassador of IAMCR. ABP Education, IndiaReal and The Policy Times are the media partners of the webinar series.
Anna, a started her discourse by referring to a recent book edited by Massimo Ragnedda and her, which contains valuable articles by scholars from various parts of the Global South. Following the reference, she began her nuanced presentation titled ‘Theoretical and Empirical Approaches to the Digital Divide’.
Anna defined digital divide as the gap between those who have access (and use) to digital technologies and those who do not. She added that digital divide could also be defined as the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographical areas at different socioeconomic levels with regard to both their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their use of the internet for a wide variety of activities.
Talking about how the concept of digital divide changed over a period of time, Anna said, “Uneven access to technological networks and infrastructures resulting in unequal access to information and online services distributed by them shaped the first period of the digital divide studies.” She added, “The second period of digital divide studies put forward a more nuanced up-to-date approach to the problem looking at it as a multidimensional issue, embracing different aspects of divides and exclusions.”
Talking about the different focuses of the digital divide, Anna said that the focuses were primarily access-related issues, socio-demographic issues and motivational issues. Anna described digital divide as a three-level phenomenon. The first level constitutes inequalities in access to the internet and ICTs. The second level talks about inequalities in internet use and digital competencies of users. The third level comprises the inequalities in benefits users get from different accesses and uses of ICTs.
Anna then talked about the concept of digital inclusion. She said, “Digital inclusion means that all individuals and groups have access and skills to use digital technologies irrespective of one’s intersecting identities (age, colour, race, citizenship, ethnic origin, place of origin, disability, education and employment, geographic location and other factors.” She went on to add, “The understanding of digital inclusion has shifted from its original connection to access/ skills of using ICTs to a more complex field, involving many other areas.” She also vouched for the digital inclusion of children and young people, disabled people, elderly people, ethnic minorities and other social groups.
While deliberating on the advantages of access to ICTs, she said that access to and use of ICTs in the society is a prerequisite for economic, social and cultural development. She added that the development and wide spread of ICTs can create new development opportunities with enormous potential.
While talking about the availability of ICTs among people across the world, she referred to a very interesting piece of statistics. Out of a total global population of 7.77 billion as of April 2020, 5.26 billion are unique mobile phone users, 4.57 billion are internet users and 3.81 billion people are active social media users.
Referring to the Covid-19 pandemic, Anna pointed out that the pandemic has prompted people to go online in a big way and more and more people are using ICTs to keep up to their usual quota of work.
Moving on, Anna talked about the state of digital divide in Russia. She referred to the complexity of the situation in Russia by pointing out that it is the largest country in the world in terms of area. Russia also has 190 ethnic communities with 170 different languages. She added that subject to the diverse nature of the country, digital divide is a serious issue.
While talking about Russia, Anna iterated, “ In the 1990s, Russia faced all kinds of digital divides starting from a very low level of access resulted from an almost zero level of penetration of the telecommunication infrastructure in 1991, the year of dissolution of the USSR and a very low level of information/ media/ digital literacy of the general audience.” She added, “The major division lines were like elsewhere – access to technologies, place of residence, gender, occupation, age and their growing convergence.”
Adding perspective, Anna said, “Internet and digital media became a visible sign of change in the post-Soviet Russia in the mid-1990s when ICTs began to penetrate large industrial Russian cities in the European part of the territory and later, in mid-2000s, when digital technologies became available to the majority of urban population.” She added, “The real breakthrough happened in early 2010s with the number of internet connections crossed a half of all Russians and the overall number of mobile telephony penetration were almost equal to the size of the population.”
Giving a fair idea of where Russia stands vis-à-vis the availability of ICTs, Anna said, “Russia ranks 94th on the Speedtest Global Index by mobile speed and 47th by fixed broadband speed.” She also added that the digital divide in Russia is a very serious issue.
Anna said, “The general internet penetration in Russia is 75.4 per cent while the mobile internet penetration is 61 per cent.” Talking about the reasons for the digital divide, Anna pointed out distance or isolation, urbanization level, availability of infrastructure and costs for building new infrastructure and climate and geographic conditions as the primary factors.
Adding to the discourse on digital divide, Anna stressed on the Digital Literacy Index in Russia with the sub-indices being Digital Consumption Sub-Index, Digital Competence Sub-Index and Digital Safety Sub-Index.
Anna also talked about the concept of digital capital. She explained the concept as “accumulation of digital competencies (information, communication, safety, content-creation and problem-solving), and digital technology.” She went on to talk about the Digital Russia programme that aims to eliminate digital inequality in the country. The programme started in the year 2014.
Author’s Introduction: Dr. Sunayan Bhattacharjee, who has completed his Ph.D. in Film Studies from the School of Liberal Studies under Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University in Gandhinagar, is currently an Assistant Professor with the School of Media, Communication & Fashion at Adamas University in Kolkata. A journalism postgraduate from the prestigious Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication in Pune, he previously served as an Assistant Professor and Course Leader with the School of Contemporary Media under Pearl Academy in Delhi. He has earlier been a journalist with renowned organizations such as The Times of India in Chennai and Reuters News in Bengaluru. He has also been the Associate Editor of The Cinemaholic, a popular global cinema portal. He was the Assistant Editor of edInbox, a news portal that covers educational news from all across Southeast Asia. He also boasts of a considerable teaching experience with prior stints at Tripura University in Agartala, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University and Ramoji Krian Universe in Hyderabad. He is a UGC-NET qualified scholar.