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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication

Volume 12 Numbers 1 & 2, 2002


THE DIGITAL DIVIDE IN SOUTH KOREA:
CLOSING AND WIDENING DIVIDES IN THE 1990S  

Han Woo Park
Yeung Nam University

Abstract. This article [1] examines the closing and widening of digital divides in South Korea during the 1990s. The results indicate that mental (among others motivational) and material access to new digital technologies has been growing substantially in this decade. This was promoted by persistent policies of the Korean government and business world. Opposed to that, insufficient digital skills and scanty usage opportunities remain among the Korean people. It is argued that they lead to new forms of digital divide. In particular, gaps in digital skills and usage appear centering around traditional demographic variables such as, age or occupational status.

Introduction

Despite the fact that information technologies such as the Internet have already has been identified as a "general-purpose technology" (Lipsey, Bekar & Carlaw, 1998), not all people have benefited from them. In other words, there has been a so-called "digital divide" generally defined as the inequality (or gap) in accessing and using new information equipment and services such as the computer and the Internet (Hacker & Van Dijk, 2000; NTIA, 1999).

Past research has focused on a few advanced and informatized societieies in North American and Europe (Hoffman, Novak, & Slosser, 2000; Jung, Qiu, & Kim, 2001; Van Dijk & Hacker, 2000). In spite of Asia’s increasingly important role in the development of the information society (Kahen, 1995; Singhal & Rogers, 2000; Wang, 1994), there has been little empirical (or scientific) research in the field of the digital divide. This paper examines these issues. In particular, this paper identifies the digital divide in Korea that plays a more prominent role in the informatization in Asia (Ernst, 2000; Park, Barnett, & Kim, 2000; Park, Barnett, & Nam, 2001).

Digital divide theory

Although descriptions vary, it may be said that the term information society is appropriate to represent many current characteristics and changing trends of our age. In the information society, the competitiveness of a nation is determined by its degree of informatization. [2] As a result, nation-states are making efforts to hasten the transition to information societies, allocating a large portion of national resources to this end. Among these, closing digital divides among people has been the main domain of the informatization program (NTIA, 1999).

Van Dijk and Hacker (2000) identify four political responses to the digital divide:

  1. denial of the existence of a digital divide;
  2. acceptance of some present divide(s), claiming that they will soon disappear;
  3. emphasis of new inequalities of access to digital technologies which are supposed to grow and come on top of old inequalities of income, education, age, gender, ethnicity and geographical location;
  4. differentiation: some divides are decreasing while others grow.

The nature of the responses also varies according to general perspectives on technology. On the one hand there are the technological optimists (Negroponte, 1995; Rheingold, 1993), who see great possibilities created by market forces and individual desires. In this context, they argue that many people will adopt the computer and the Internet in the near future for the following reasons. The first is educational or occupational. Since computer skills are a necessary job qualification and no one wants to be left behind being subject to the incessant pressures of employment, the number of people who purchase and use new technologies is growing rapidly. The second is entertainment. People are willing to use the Internet service to gratify their new needs, such as online chatting. Next, there is the economic reason. The Internet is a cost effective communication technology for individuals and organizations to exchange and distribute information. No matter how great the distance between any two nodes, it allows for communication at a low cost. Further, the decreasing price of computers and the Internet helps expand the online population of the general public. In addition, the mass media are spreading and intensifying the popular faith about computer technology by adopting technology-centered news frames (Park, 2001b). So, this first optimistic perspective emphasizes a high degree of technological determinism. On the other hand, optimistic (or utopian) visions of the digital divide have been accused by technological pessimists of veiling newly appearing inequalities and distorting the social discourse on the consequences of new information technologies (Bromley, 1997; Schiller, 1999).

Information technologies are developing rapidly and becoming more and more specialized. The primary element of newly invented technologies is interactivity (Rafali & Sudweeks, 1997; Rogers, 1995). Interactive technology requires the active involvement of the user so that people having insufficient skills are hardly motivated to possess and use them (Bandura, 1982, 1997; Eastin & LaRose, 2000). At issue is whether there exists a divide based upon a set of digital skills. Although price considered as antecedent condition that causes the digital divide is no longer a strong factor, it is unclear whether all kinds of digital divide will ultimately disappear.

Previous studies on information technologies have focused on their interface (Barnes, 2000; Sundar, 2000), psychological access (Eastin & LaRose, 2000), cultural access (Ito, Adler, Linde, Mynatt, & O’Day, 1999), and a combination of education, motivation, and usage opportunities (Van Dijk & Hacker, 2000). They argue that the current digital divide is becoming a multifaceted phenomenon, compared to the divide caused by the lack of universal access to the required technologies such as the personal computer (Alexander & Pal, 1988). As a multifaceted phenomenon it is primary related to social issues that affect extended use of new technologies (Kling, 1999; MacKenzie & Wajcman, 1999). Material (possession of hardware/software) access is resolved through the physical availability of suitable equipment, including computers of adequate speed and equipped with appropriate software for a given activity (Kling, 1999). Social access involves mental (or psychological) access defined by problems l ike computer anxienty and lack of motivation to use computers, skills access and usage access. These forms of social access are necessary for a successful realization of material access (Bromley & Michael, 1998; Murdock, Hartmann, & Gray, 1992). Social access may stimulate or constrain the persistent use of new technology. For example, individual’s awareness of, interest in, opportunity to, and technical skills to use information technologies all may impact the digital divide. In other words, social access is believed to be central in helping the public make the most of the benefits from technological (or material) access and ultimately lead to the closing of divides. Thus, those two elements, social and technological access, should be viewed as complements

In this context, Van Dijk argues, from a historic viewpoint, that access problems of information technology gradually shift from the lack of mental and material access to the lack of skills and usage access (Van Dijk, 1999, 2000; Van Dijk & Hacker, 2000). This paper examines Van Dijk's contention in the South-Korean context. Simply stated, his digital divide theory says that the problems of the public's awareness of information technologies, and its motivation to use them, and the possession of personal computers and Internet connections are solved overtime. On the other hand, insufficient technical skill and scanty usage opportunity are unlikely to diminish. Rather, they are widening due to differential positions taken in society or general differences of age, gender, and occupation.

Closing and Widening Digital Divides in South Korea

Narrowing Mental and Material Access Divides

The South-Korean government has vigorously pursued a wide range of information programs with since the advent of the 1990s. In particularly, this government has started to focus its deep and ardent commitment to diffuse the ‘mind’ for informatization throughout the nation. The establishment of the Information Culture Center (ICC) may be a good example. The Korean government built the ICC to promote the information society to the general public in 1988. The government’s logic was simple: technological diffusion within a society can be achieved from by creating a culture favorable for fostering the development and the dissemination of information technologies, by raising public awareness of the increasing importance of information technologies in everyday life (Lerner, 1962; Rogers, 1976; Schramm, 1963). Next, there was a hardware-oriented approach. For instance, in the early 1990s, the Korean government launched a so-called ‘universal information service’ policy (Kim & Lee, 1991; Sung, 1994). Its policy target was to distribute free computer terminals among the public. It was influenced by the success of the French Minitel videotex (Kramer, 1993). The government believed that the realization of equal access to new technologies, the closing of inequality in possession and utilization, could be achieved through a ‘one terminal per household’ policy. When it comes to the diffusion of computers among ordinary people, policy makers also thought that the problem regarding the possession of hardware would be solved as the price goes went down (Rogers, Dutton, & Jun, 1987).

Arguably, thanks to the government’s commitment to promote informatization, there was a surprising growth between the late 1980s and the mid 1990s. [3] In late 1980s, the general level of informatization was as follows (ICC, 1998): In 1988, only 35.0 percent of Southern-Korean people had heard of the term ‘information society’. In 1990, the personal computer penetration rate in the home was 11.0 percent. Since that time the Korean people’s awareness of the information society has been increasing very rapidly: 47.0 percent in 1990, 76.5 percent in 1992, 86.8 percent in 1994 (ICC, 1998). In 1997, the number of Southern-Korean people possessing a personal computer at home and using online communication services (including the Internet) was 43.2 percent and 21.4percent respectively (ICC, 1998a).

During the middle years of 1990s, the mass media also contributed to creating a symbolic environment favorable for the diffusion of the government’s informatization policy (Park, 2000; Song, Rii, & Moon, 1997). Several major newspapers such as the Cho-sun daily and Dong-a daily conducted a public campaign with the goal of informatization. The Newspapers’ campaigns shared a common characteristic in that they aimed at enhancing the informatization environment of schools, universities, companies, and museums that had previously lacked access to information systems such as an Internet homepage. In order to achieve this purpose, they undertook a multi-faceted endeavor including technical assistance. For example, the Cho-sun daily launched a group of volunteers called ‘TechCorp’ as the part of campaign activities. The primary purpose of TechCorp was to assist elementary schools lest they should be technologically outdated with the invention introduction of new information technologies. Park (2000) argues that on a broader level, the media campaign had been evaluated as successful in increasing the levels of ownership, usage and understanding of information technologies by creating a social environment favorable for the promotion of informatization.

Thanks to the public and private sector’s commitment to diffuse new information technologies, the use of computer and the Internet among the Southern-Korean people has grown substantially. In the case of the personal computer, there were 15 million personal computers in 2000, up from 8.2 million in 1998 (NCA, 2001). According to the ICC (2001), about 4 out of 5 Korean households possess personal computer (see, Figure 1). The number of Koreans using the Internet has also increased rapidly: 0.14 million in 1995, 1.6 million in 1997, 10 million in 1999, 19.04 million in 2000, and 22.23 million in September 2001 (Korea Network Information Center). The ICC (2001) survey shows that 64.9 percent of Southern-Korean people used the Internetpercent in 2001 (see, Figure 2). South Korea ranks No. 1 in the Asia Pacific region in the penetration of broadband access for 2001. Ninty-five percent of home Internet users, or 15.8 million people, have high-speed connections such as cable modem or digital subscriber line (Korea Herald, 2001). According to Nielsen/NetRatings (2001), 23 Korean websites are included in the list of world’s 100 biggest locally accessed web properties. Compared to other countries, the low prices to access the Internet may have contributed to the increase of Internet users (OECD, 2001).

==============================================================

Figure 1. Penetration Rate of PCs at home in South Korea (1994-2001)

* Source: ICC (2001)

==============================================================

Figure 2. Percent of Internet Users in South Korea (1995-2001)

* Source: ICC (2001)

==============================================================

 Newly growing Digital Divides in Digital Skills and Usage

Contrary to policy maker’s expectations, the attainment of the ideal information society in South Korea has not been automatically realized by the distribution of technology alone. In 1997, the National Statistical Office started to include several items measuring the Korean people’s status of informatization in a census. According to the census, 60.1 percent of the Southern-Korean people were unable to use a personal computer (NSO, 1997). It is a surprising fact that more than half of the general public is computer illiterate.

An examination of the 2000 data shows that the Korean people’s poor computer literacy has not improved (ICC, 2000). In the ICC’s (2000) national survey of 3,000 respondents between April and May of 2000 they found that about 45.6 percent of the Korean population have no or very few digital skills. [4] Table 1 shows that the divide in digital skills occurs around traditional demographic categories such as gender, age, education, and occupation. Fifty-one point eight percent of women, 72.9 percent of 50s, 59.7 percent of low middle education, and 52.2 percent of blue collar workers have no skill or a low level of digital literacy. As Van Dijk (1999, 2000) argues, the negative relationships between some categories such as women, the old, and low educated people and digital skills may be caused by insufficient user-friendliness. For instance, it is very difficult for the elderly to get the digital competence necessary for operating a computer (Park, 2001a). When approaching age 50 (Braus, 1995), people tend to experience severe physiological changes in vision ability, cognitive functioning, hearing ability and motor skill. Regarding computer technology, for example, slower motor movements can significantly reduce an older person's ability to type on the keyboard or control a finite mouse that requires fine hand movements.

Table 1. Distribution of Digital skills among Southern Koreans in 2000 (Percentages)

 

 

No or very few

Reasonable

Good

All

 

45.6

41.0

13.4

Gender

Male

41.3

42.3

16.3

Female

51.8

39.2

9.0

Age

13-19

47.5

41.3

11.2

20-29

31.3

50.4

18.3

30-39

51.4

34.6

14.0

40-49

63.2

30.5

6.3

50-59

72.9

27.1

0.0

60-64

100.0

0.0

0.0

Occupation

Farmer/fisher

66.7

25.0

8.3

Self employer

61.9

28.5

9.6

Blue collar

52.2

37.4

10.3

White collar

27.2

51.8

21.0

Housewife

68.5

26.6

4.8

Middle/high student

49.2

39.8

11.0

College student

27.8

53.3

18.9

Unemployed

39.4

48.5

12.1

Education

Low

93.3

6.7

0.0

Low middle

59.7

33.2

7.1

High middle

42.0

44.0

13.9

High

28.1

50.0

21.9

  • Source: ICC (2000). n = 1513
  • Row Percent

Poor digital skills may lead to little use of the computer. A number of 30.5 percent of the non-computer users answered that they found it difficult to use. A large proportion of the total group of nonusers were women, elderly people, non-white collar workers and people with the low education and annual income. Among people not connected to the Internet this figure reaches 42.1 percent. 

Table 2. Reasons for not using a computer in South Korea in 2000

Items

Percent

Do not know what for

7.6

Complex and hard to use it

30.5

Do not need to use it

26.8

Have no time

26.0

Because of cost

7.2

Do not want to learn how to use it

1.6

Do not have computer

0.3

Out of order

0.1

* Source: ICC (2000). N = 1487

==============================================================

==============================================================

Table 3. Reasons for not using the Internet in South Korea in 2000

Reasons

Percent

Do not know what for using

8.4

Do not know how to use

42.1

Do not need to use

32.2

Do not have useful content

1.4

Can not speak English

1.4

Because of cost

9.1

Do not want to learn how to use

1.4

Do not have time to use

2.4

Do not have computer

0.8

Because of connection speed

0.5

Because of capacity of computer

0.2

Out of order computer

0.1

Do not have modem

0.1

* Source: ICC (2000). N = 1888

==============================================================

There are not only Internet illiterate but also "want-nots" (32.2 percent). But this figure should be interpreted very carefully. They should not be regarded as simply "choose-nots"as 77.1 percent of them have no or few digital skills. Thus, they may not really be “want-nots”. When people view the use of computer technology as a difficult job, their perceptions affect the person's self-efficacy and they may avoid computing. Self-efficacy is the belief  "in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments" (Bandura, 1997, p. 3). In relation to a technology, self-efficacy is the confidence of an individual that it can use (or control) a particular technology in performing its activities.

==============================================================

Table 4. Off-liners

 Reasons and their digital skills in South Korea (2000)

Reasons

No or

Very few

Reasonable

Good

Do not know what for using

81.8

(0)

18.2

(2)

0.0

(0)

Do not know how to use

86.1

(124)

12.5

(18)

1.4

(2)

Do not need to use

77.1

(81)

21.0

(22)

1.9

(2)

Do not have useful content

68.8

(11)

31.3

(5)

0.0

(0)

Can not speak English

87.5

(7)

12.5

(1)

0.0

(0)

Because of cost

76.0

(73)

19.8

(19)

4.2

(4)

Do not want to learn how to use

100.0

(6)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

Do not have time to use

33.3

(1)

66.7

(2)

0.0

(0)

Do not have computer

0.0

(0)

100.0

(1)

0.0

(0)

Because of connection speed

75.0

(6)

25.0

(2)

0.0

(0)

Because of capacity of computer

100.0

(4)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

Do not have modem

0.0

(0)

100.0

(1)

0.0

(0)


* Source: ICC (2000). N = 403
* Row Percent (Count)

In addition to incompetent digital skills, a usage gap also constitutes a divide. According to Van Dijk and Hacker (2000), a usage gap is defined as the unbalanced use of digital technologies between parts of the population. Some people use and benefit from advanced technologies, more difficult applications and services, but other people tend to use basic and simple applications such as word processing or a computer card game.

Table 5. Usage of software among South Koreans in 2001 (percentages)

 

 

Word processing

Spread sheet

Database

Graphic/Music

Internet/ Online Network

Utilities (WinZip etc.)

Game

/Enter-tainment

Learning/

Education

All

86.9

49.0

18.2

58.6

80.2

35.4

77.6

48.5

Gender

Male

87.7

52.9

21.2

61.2

81.9

43.7

81.2

46.1

Female

86.0

44.2

14.5

55.2

78.2

25.1

73.2

51.5

Age

7-13

73.5

23.8

6.8

43.8

63.0

16.0

93.0

68.7

14-19

90.6

45.0

15.5

72.3

86.0

40.2

90.2

59.4

20s

90.8

61.4

22.2

71.3

87.8

46.0

79.2

38.4

30s

88.6

55.8

22.4

55.1

80.5

37.8

71.8

49.6

40s

87.3

47.8

19.1

49.5

79.3

30.5

63.8

42.3

Over 50

81.8

39.5

15.7

34.9

69.2

19.6

51.3

23.2

Occupation

Farmer/fisher

88.2

35.3

14.7

41.2

64.7

26.5

64.7

38.2

Self employer

83.1

44.7

19.7

48.6

76.8

30.5

70.9

33.2

Blue collar

77.2

38.2

15.0

47.6

72.4

27.3

74.7

31.3

White collar

95.7

72.9

27.3

62.0

88.0

47.7

67.8

41.9

Housewife

83.6

38.9

13.3

50.2

77.4

22.6

67.1

51.1

Primary Student

73.3

23.9

6.9

43.8

63.2

16.2

93.2

69.2

Middle/high/ College student

92.4

51.3

18.9

74.9

87.2

45.7

87.8

55.7

Unemployee/ Others

88.1

53.2

19.0

63.4

84.5

40.3

78.4

40.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Source: ICC (2001). n = 10351
* Multiple responses

For example, as summarized in Table 5, word processing is broadly used across various sectors of Korea (ICC, 2001). However, there are substantial differences in the use of other applications among people of different gender, age and occupation. Women use all applications significantly less than males except for educational applications. People above 50 use all applications less than people under 50 are using them. The same goes for blue-collar workers as compared to white-collar workers. The differences between blue-collar and white-collar workers are the largest with the most difficult or advanced applications for work: spreadsheets, databases and utilities. They are the smallest with relatively simple or educational applications: graphic/music, Internet, game or entertainment applications and some applications of learning. This may be due to scanty opportunities. Blue collars usually get less exposure to the new media at their workplace. On the other hand, the wide use of new technology in the office helps white-collar workers remain active users of those applications. They will easily access and use a large number of different software applications. The greater the chance, the more likely it is that the people will access to digital applications and services. This reveals that there exists a digital divide in skills as well as in usage.

Scientific explanation

For a scientific explanation of the impact of digital skill on home computer possession and Internet connection, the 2000 data provided by the ICC were analyzed. Five background variables (gender, age, occupation, income, education) and digital skill were entered into a logistic regression analysis to determine if they were significant predictors of computer possession and Internet connection. Two separate regressions were performed using an enter method.

In the first model, the dependent variable was the ownership of a home computer. Of the original 3,000 cases, 1,494 were deleted due to missing data. As seen in Table 6, the Wald test shows that, of the independents, only digital skill had significant relationship with the ownership of home computer (p < .05). Income, occupation, and age were significant variables, but its component dummy variables were not all significant when taken individually. On the whole, the pseudo R square (Nagelkerke R2) indicates that 16.4 percent of the variance in dependent variable is accounted for by the independent variables.

Table 6. Logistic regression of background variables of computer possession in South Korea in 2000

 

B

S.E.

Wald

df

Sig.

Exp(B)

Digital Skills

 

 

32.26

2.00

0.00

 

Skills

(No or Very few=1)

-1.44

0.31

21.46

1.00

0.00

0.24

Skills

(Reasonable=1)

-0.66

0.31

4.56

1.00

0.03

0.52

Education

 

 

4.55

3.00

0.21

 

Education

(Low=1)

-0.66

0.61

1.20

1.00

0.27

0.51

Education

(Low Middle=1)

-0.46

0.23

4.01

1.00

0.05

0.63

Education

(High Middle=1)

4.84

9.45

0.26

1.00

0.61

126.67

Income

 

 

16.79

3.00

0.00

 

Income

(Low=1)

-1.05

0.37

8.16

1.00

0.00

0.35

Income

(Low Middle=1)

-0.43

0.27

2.46

1.00

0.12

0.65

Income

(High Middle=1)

0.06

0.28

0.04

1.00

0.84

1.06

Gender

(Male=1)

-0.29

0.17

2.92

1.00

0.09

0.75

Occupation

 

 

20.06

7.00

0.01

 

Occupation

(Farmer/Fisher=1)

-0.89

0.94

0.89

1.00

0.34

0.41

Occupation

(Self employer=1)

-0.70

0.51

1.87

1.00

0.17

0.49

Occupation

(Blue Collar=1)

-1.25

0.48

6.84

1.00

0.01

0.29

Occupation

(White Collar=1)

-1.16

0.48

5.84

1.00

0.02

0.31

Occupation

(Housewife=1)

0.59

0.66

0.79

1.00

0.37

1.80

Occupation

(Middle/High School

Student)

-5.73

9.46

0.37

1.00

0.54

0.00

Occupation

(Collegian=1)

-5.69

9.45

0.36

1.00

0.55

0.00

Age

 

 

30.94

5.00

0.00

 

Age

(13-19=1)

-6.19

17.61

0.12

1.00

0.73

0.00

Age

(20-29=1)

-6.32

17.60

0.13

1.00

0.72

0.00

Age

(30-39=1)

-5.75

17.60

0.11

1.00

0.74

0.00

Age

(40-49=1)

-4.06

17.61

0.05

1.00

0.82

0.02

Age

(50-59=1)

-4.15

17.62

0.06

1.00

0.81

0.02

Constant

10.20

17.61

0.34

1.00

0.56

26886.03

Nagelkerke R2=0.164
Hosmer & Lemeshow's Goodness of Fit=6.781 (df=8, N=1506), p= .560.

The second model included Internet connection as a dependent variable instead of home computer ownership. As indicated by the significance levels of the Wald test, among independent variables, only digital skill was significant (p = .00). In addition, income and education were significant variables, but their dummy variables were not all significant when entered individually. These results are very similar to the first model. The pseudo R square was 18.8 percent.

 

Table 7. Logistic regression of Internet connection in South Korea in 2001

 

B

S.E.

Wald

Df

Sig.

Exp(B)

Digital Skills

 

 

112.34

2.00

0.00

 

Skills

(No or Very few=1)

-1.84

0.23

64.51

1.00

0.00

0.16

Skills

(Reasonable=1)

-0.67

0.23

8.54

1.00

0.00

0.51

Education

 

 

28.89

3.00

0.00

 

Education

(Low=1)

-0.79

0.43

3.42

1.00

0.06

0.45

Education

(Low Middle=1)

-0.89

0.17

28.40

1.00

0.00

0.41

Education

(High Middle=1)

-0.09

0.70

0.02

1.00

0.90

0.91

Income

 

 

9.22

3.00

0.03

 

Income

(Low=1)

-0.80

0.31

6.79

1.00

0.01

0.45

Income

(Low Middle=1)

-0.36

0.20

3.26

1.00

0.07

0.70

Income

(High Middle=1)

-0.15

0.20

0.58

1.00

0.45

0.86

Gender

(Male=1)

-0.13

0.13

0.92

1.00

0.34

0.88

Occupation

 

 

4.66

7.00

0.70

 

Occupation

(Farmer/Fisher=1)

-0.69

0.70

0.99

1.00

0.32

0.50

Occupation

(Self employer=1)

-0.21

0.34

0.39

1.00

0.53

0.81

Occupation

(Blue Collar=1)

-0.34

0.33

1.07

1.00

0.30

0.71

Occupation

(White Collar=1)

-0.46

0.32

2.05

1.00

0.15

0.63

Occupation

(Housewife=1)

-0.26

0.37

0.48

1.00

0.49

0.77

Occupation

(Middle/High School

Student)

-0.72

0.80

0.81

1.00

0.37

0.49

Occupation

(Collegian=1)

-0.31

0.73

0.18

1.00

0.67

0.73

Age

 

 

8.38

5.00

0.14

 

Age

(13-19=1)

-0.33

1.09

0.09

1.00

0.76

0.72

Age

(20-29=1)

-0.54

1.04

0.27

1.00

0.61

0.59

Age

(30-39=1)

-0.33

1.03

0.10

1.00

0.75

0.72

Age

(40-49=1)

0.02

1.04

0.00

1.00

0.98

1.02

Age

(50-59=1)

0.19

1.07

0.03

1.00

0.86

1.20

Constant

3.23

1.10

8.58

1.00

0.00

25.38

Nagelkerke R2=0.188
Hosmer & Lemeshow's Goodness of Fit=17.379 (df=8, N=1506), p= .026.

Therefore, digital skill had a significant effect on the prediction of home computer possession and Internet connection. The other variables did not discriminate looking at the ownership of home computer and Internet connection among people. In other words, the important finding of the logistic regression is that digital skill was a strong factor in predicting the ownership of personal computer and Internet connection at home.

 Conclusions and Policy Perspectives

This paper examined the digital divide in South Korea in the 1990s. The main findings are that the gaps in digital skill and usage opportunities are widening among different sector of the Korean population, while the mental and material divides have been closing over time.

In this situation, enhancing computer literacy is discussed among Korean policymakers as an integral element of closing the newly emerging digital divide such as insufficient computer skill. Computer literacy is defined as the degree of being adept at using computer appliances and services for work and play. Learning how to use computer technology requires intellectual and economic ability so that the poor and the uneducated may not have educational opportunities. They are not able to obtain adequate digital skills to operate more advanced digital equipment and services.

After the inauguration of President Dae-Jung Kim in February 1998, the Ministry of Information and Communication prepared "the Cyber Korea 21" (MIC, 1999). Covering a four-year period from 1999 to 2002, the Cyber Korea 21 itemizes informatization programs for a knowledge-based information society. Perhaps the most important policy in terms of the digital divide is computer education targeting the entire population. It expresses a strong willingness of the government to make Koreans the best computer users in the world to strengthen human resource infrastructure. More specifically, the government provides various programs tailored for each group of citizens: students, civil servants, senior citizens, housewives, the self-employed, the disabled, and the military. The necessary environment will be created by the transformation of public institutions such as post offices into open training centers for the public, and encouraging private institutions to offer free computer courses by providing subsidies.

But computer education should not be regarded as an omnipotent solution to a number of gaps in accessing and using computer equipment and services. Social access is "know-how, a mix of professional knowledge, economic resources, and technical skills, to use technologies in ways that enhance professional practices and social life" (Kling, 1999). Thus, the Korean policymaker needs to consider a wide range of social factors. In the case of computer literacy, the following recommendations are made.

Computer literacy or ability should not be viewed too narrowly. It is more than the number of computer-related courses. Computer literacy is "an understanding of computer characteristics, capabilities, and applications, as well as an ability to implement this knowledge in the skillful, productive use of computer applications suitable to individual roles in society" (Simonson, Maurer, Montag-Torardi, & Whitaker, 1987, p. 233). Next, in a similar vein, without motivation and usage opportunity, computer literacy will remain useless and peripheral in the process of solving the digital divide. Computer education or training plans can not be separated from such issues as how a society increases the use of digital information throughout various sectors of society. The program must motivate the disadvantaged to maintain the appropriate level of digital skills. In fact, real practice and motivation are decisive factors. However, unfriendly interfaces may diminish people’s motivation and prevent them from using computer and going online. Thus, the South-Korean government’s endeavor to close the digital divide by providing training programs should be coupled with developing user friendly software.

Endnotes

Han Woo Park received his B.A. and M.A. from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and Seoul National University of South Korea respectively, in Communication and Information, and his Ph.D. in the School of Informatics from State University of New York at Buffalo (2002). He has served as a Research Associate at Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). He has published his papers in international journals such as the Journal of American Society for Information Science and Technology. His research focuses on collaboration, hyperlink networks, information society policy, virtual community, international communication, and communications via new media such as the Internet. 

[1] The author is grateful to Ji Yeol Yoo, George Barnett, Doo Jin Choi, and the Information Culture Center of South Korea for their help while gathering the data for the article. Also, my thanks to Jan van Dijk for his insightful suggestions on the earlier version of the paper.

[2] For example, the International Data Corporation (IDC), a research and consulting company on information technology, rates annually the situation of informatization around worldwide countries according to Information Society Index (ISI). Just as GDP measures economic wealth, the ISI measures computer infrastructure, Internet infrastructure, information infrastructure, and social infrastructure. In the 2,000 survey, Sweden ranked the first. See, the IDC web site at. http://www.idc.com/

Theoretically, the term "informatization" is different from the term "information society." According to Webster (1995), the information society is used to emphasize a decisive break with past eras. On the other hand, informatization is often adopted to mean that present society is in the process of digitizing information, maintaining past social relations. However, this distinction is believed to be irrelevant because the term informatization , the most frequently used in Korea, tends to mean the same. Thus, information society and informatization are interchangeably used here. The "Basic Act on Informatization Promotion," basic guiding principles on building the Korean Information Infrastructure (KII) and creating an information society, defines informatization as "making each sector of society work or accelerate their efficiency through the production, distribution or utilization of information" (Sub-Section 2 of section 2). In addition, to explain that the usage of informatization is influenced by the term "modernization" may be more convincing. In the last few decades, in order to be developed, countries including Korea needed to be modernized (Lerner, 1962; Rogers, 1976). Similarly, at present, they need to be informatized.

[3] It should be noted that this does not always say that there exists a causal link between the Southern Korean governments informatization policy and people’s awareness and adoption rate. In theory, this paper assumes the correlation.

[4] The digital skill index was constructed by summing the four items measuring word processing, Excel, utilities such as WinZip, and information searching/retrieval on the Internet. Reliability coefficient (Cronbach’s Alpha) for the index, a = .82.

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