Digital Divide from Physical Access to Usage: Explaining the Role of Digital Literacy, Skills and Motivational Access



Received: 01/08/2016

Accepted: 28/12/2016

Introduction and statement of the problem: We live in the age of information and communication technologies as the main tools of production in which having skills in such technologies contribute to enhancing social and wealth status of the people (Rogers, 2016). Differently put, a lack of access to technology and digital literacy and communication skills may lead to furthering deprivation of groups and communities (Subramony, 2007, 2011). At present, access to the information and communication technologies and knowing how to use these technologies are of great importance in both developed and developing communities. Without access to the information and communication technologies, especially internet, and without having necessary specialty along with the attitude toward using information and communication technology, it is not possible to gain information electronically, that is, to use digital opportunities in achieving personal and public goals (Yousefi Saied Abadi & Mohseni, 2012). To date, much research has been conducted on the determinant factors affecting physical access to digital technologies both inside and outside. This is while little research has been carried out on the determinant factors affecting usage of information and communication technologies and identifying the variables affecting a shift from physical access to usage, i.e., benefiting from full capacities of information and communication technologies. For that reason, this argument aims at filling such research gap focusing on the city of Rafsanjan. So far, the previous research has found out that the common and functional use of computer and internet has higher importance compared to the physical access to computer and internet in the literature on digital divide. Here, this research seeks to answer the question of what is the role of variables such as digital literacy and skill and motivational access in the causal relationship between physical access and usage. Knowing variables playing a role in these two access levels is of great importance, especially for policy makers and enthusiasts of development areas in general and especially media world.

Theoretical Background: in the research related to the issue of digital divide, some factors have been investigated including the usage (Bizirgianni & Dionysopoulou, 2013; Huang, Hood, & Yoo, 2013), digital skill and literacy (Ferro, Helbig, & Gil-Garcia, 2011; Hargittai, 2002; van Dijk, 2006), motivational access (Ferro et al., 2011; van Dijk, 2006) and physical access (Li & Ranieri, 2013; Park, Choi, & Hong, 2015; van Dijk, 2006) to computer and internet. when it became possible to basically use internet through providing accessibility, The usage has become more meaningful as online experience including the duration and rate of skillful use of internet and the ability to use internet to do a wide spectrum of online activities(DiMaggio, Hargittai, Celeste, & Shafer, 2004; Hargittai & Hinnant, 2008; Howard, Rainie, & Jones, n.d.; James, 2012). The usage can be studied in terms of the criteria of when to use, how to use applications, the number and variety of use, broadband and or narrowband use, more or less use, active or creative use (Van Dijk, 2006). The studies by Van Dijk (2006), Zhao et al (Zhao, Kim, Suh, & Du, 2007), Roshandel, Kazemi and Haj Esmailie (2015) have emphasized the importance of cultural factor and motivational access in acceptance and use of information and communication technologies and have introduced motivational access as a prerequisite for physical access. The skill of using internet is a critical component of human resources, because more skillful users have better condition to use internet (Hargittai & Shafer, 2006). McClure (1994) introduced the network literacy and or internet skills as the ability to identify, to access and to use the information online.

Methodology: The research method is applied in terms of the goal and it is a descriptive-correlative one in terms of type of the research. The study population of this research includes citizens of the city of Rafsanjan amounting to 1511420 inhabitants, according to census 2012. A questionnaire was used to collect data. The questionnaire of this research consists of questions that have been designed based on Likert’s five-item scale ranging from items of very low to very high. The statistical sample of the research was determined as 384 individuals using Cochran formula in confidence level of 0.95% that was increased to 600 individuals in order to increase accuracy. The research sampling method was a clustering one and the data were collected from 504 questionnaires and were used in analyses. The calculated Chronbach’s alpha coefficient of research variables is 0.93 for digital skills and literacy variable, 0.94 for usage variable, 0.87 for level of motivational access to computer and internet and 0.86 for the level of physical access to computer and internet. Based on such tests, it can be said that the reliability of measurement tool is desirable. To examine research hypotheses, Amos graphics software was used to perform structural equation modeling.

Results and discussion: The results indicated that there is a meaningful and positive correlation between physical access to computer and motivation access to these technologies. In addition, the results confirmed the meaningful and positive effect of physical access to computer and internet on digital skill and literacy, and the meaningful and positive effect of physical access to computer and internet on the usage of these technologies. The findings also showed that the motivational access to communication and information technologies such as computer and internet has meaningful effect on digital skill and literacy. It was also found that the digital skill and literacy play a role in the relationship between physical access to computer and internet and usage of these technologies. Considering the research findings, although physical access of citizens to computer and internet is necessary as a primary measure to reduce and remove digital divide, it is not sufficient and it is critical to develop and implement various functional policies and applications in order to enhance motivational access and digital skills. According to findings of this research, what is important in both reducing digital divide in the level of physical access and digital divide in the level of usage is the motivational access. It can also be reached through convincing people to use digital media that some have proposed it as cultural, social and mental access. The issues like technology anxiety, computer anxiety, lack of the sense of usefulness and effectiveness of digital media are of the causes of unwillingness to usage of technologies that can be improved through programs like enhancing cyber security and comparability of the content provided with local cultures and values.