The digital divide refers to the difference between people who have computers—or at least have access to computers—and can connect to the internet, compared to those without the ability to get onto the internet. This creates a significant gap or divide in the level of information and data that people with internet access have at their fingertips, relative to people without internet access: people who cannot surf the internet, cannot obtain data and get answers to questions with just a few keystrokes. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the digital divide as “the economic, educational, and social inequalities between those who have computers and online access and those who do not.”
The reason that this divide or gap can create economic, educational, and social inequalities is because easier access to information generally enables people to outperform others who need to work harder to get similar (and usually lesser) information.
The digital divide was extremely meaningful in the early days of the personal computer and when the internet was first becoming popular. Internet penetration was low then. However, in developed countries such as the United States, the majority of the population has internet access. According to market research company eMarketer, U.S. internet penetration exceeds 86%.
Access has even accelerated further with mobile devices such as smart phones. Smart phone adoption has outpaced the adoption of most other recently introduced devices, making it easier for a broader group of people to have access to the internet.