On Global Digital Divide

Since the 1980s much has been said about our world becoming globalized. The social science literature of the 1990s and popular press abound with such arguments. Whether globalization is a new phenomenon that we are all experiencing or whether it is a good condition that should be welcomed is beyond the scope of this essay. However, one point needs to be made clear: globalization, regardless of how it might be conceptualized, is a product of the advances that are made in information and communications technologies (ICT). Various social, economic and political processes have been greatly facilitated and impacted by the ICT.

The fact that there has been a huge increase in global trade and investment in the last few decades, and that virtual communities can be formed thanks to the internet, are simply two manifestations of the technological advances in question. Furthermore, the emergence and development of social media is a phenomenon in and of itself, posing many challenges to psychology, sociology and political science, not to mention corporations that have been more than eager to exploit the marketing possibilities within this context.

Despite the fact that the said technologies have brought about revolutionary changes in the way people and the business world across the globe carry on trade, do transactions, make investments, produce and distribute goods, it is clear that the previously extant inequalities are paralleled in cyberspace.

One way of examining this would be to use ICT-related indicators and conduct cluster analysis. These kinds of data are now gathered by the World Bank and various other institutions, and are made available for public consumption. The data I have here come from “AKAMAI State of the Internet, Q1 Report, Vol 7, No:1 ( http://www.akamai.com/dl/akamai/akamai-soti-q114.pdf ).

The indicators “Average Connection Speed in Mbps,” “Peak Connection Speed in Mbps” and “Percent above 10 Mbps” are analyzed using R.

Cluster analysis is a data exploration technique that aims at grouping cases that are similar. It is also a way of discovering existing patterns in a data set. The data set includes 54 countries at different levels of development, and the cases are subjected to hierarchical cluster analysis based on Euclidean distances and using Ward’s method that tries to minimize the sum of squares of clusters at each step.

Differentiated zones in world political economy
Differentiated zones in world political economy


As it can be seen, there is a clear divide, a dramatic gap, between the group of countries on one end of the dendrogram and the ones on the other. South Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Japan are well ahead of the pack. The same group includes Singapore, Israel, Taiwan, Romania, Russia, Austria, Ireland, Norway, Belgium, Canada, UK, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, USA and the Czech Republic. On the other end of the spectrum there is Hungary, Germany, Spain, Slovakia, Poland, Portugal, Australia and France, followed by the UAE, Thailand, Malaysia, Italy, New Zealand, Turkey and Uruguay. Close to the latter is another group of countries including Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Indonesia, the Philippines, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Venezuela, Panama, China, India, Vietnam, Costa Rica and South Africa. The group including South Korea is quite distant from the other two, indicating a clear digital divide between what, in world-systems parlance, we might call the core, and the periphery. Of course, Germany or France, the two leading members of the EU, are not considered peripheral members of world political economy; however, in terms of their internet infrastructure and on the basis of these limited data that are used here they appear to be behind the giants of high-tech. Likewise, Romania cannot be considered part of the core but obviously, the higher speeds of connection differentiate it from countries that are otherwise similar to it. Could Romania be an example of leap-frogging in the development of ICT infrastructure?

Inevitably, this should be considered a partial analysis because it uses a very small number of variables, and there are a lot of other cases that are not used here. The underlying assumptions that are not stated explicitly above require that indicators related to economic and social phenomena be included here. Therefore, this should only be considered a partial analysis of world political economy. This said, and with due reservation, these findings suggest a three-tier structure in world political economy, where the distance between the core and the periphery is quite great. The distance between the periphery and what we might call the semi-periphery, however, is relatively smaller than their respective distances from the core.

In conclusion, we can say that so-called globalization, welcome as a blessing by several hyper-globalists and liberals, has not benefited all members of the international community equally. Furthermore, this preliminary analysis seems to corroborate the world-systems approach, arguing that the modern world-system manifests a hierarchical structure that consists of three zones with differential types of economic activity and an axial division of labor.