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THE 'DIGITAL DIVIDE'
For several years, libraries, museums and cultural policy makers have been working on increasing access to information through the use of the Internet. However, concerns are often expressed about the extent to which all Australians have access to this information.
In 2001, questions about computer and Internet use were included in an Australian census for the first time, providing the first real opportunity to analyse Information Technology (IT) use by region and to consider how social and economic factors affect IT use without sample size constraints.
The "first fruits" of this analysis, Australia Online: How Australians are using computers and the Internet (ABS cat no 2056.0; $34.00), makes for fascinating reading. For example, it reveals that in the week prior to the 2001 census, 42% of Australians or 7.88 million people used a computer at home, while 37% (6.97 million people) used the Internet at home, work or elsewhere. These people are described as falling on the 'right' (as opposed to wrong) side of the 'digital divide' and the authors of Australia Online, who are researchers in the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at the University of Canberra, use various analysis techniques to identify which social, demographic, economic or geographic factors are the most significant in determining which side of the 'divide' we inhabit.
The census data shows that use of these technologies:
In Australia, there is particular interest in whether rural and regional Australians are disadvantaged in access to and use of communication technologies. Recent studies have differed on the extent to which participation in the 'knowledge economy' is determined by location, as well as social and economic circumstances. This report finds that there is greater inequality of Internet use by region than there is inequality of home computer use, and that while there is a gap in Internet use between metropolitan and rural areas, rural residents are more likely to use the Internet and computers than those in small- to medium-sized towns.
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