Pippa Norris, Phd in Politics from the London School of Economics, is the McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Harvard University. She compares democracy, elections and public opinion, political communications, and gender politics. She has also served recently as Director of the Democratic Governance Group, United Nations Development Programme in New York.
Pippa Norris views the digital divide, “shorthand for any and every disparity within the online community” (4) three ways. The “global divide” connotes the industrialized and developing world’s disparate Internet access. The “social divide” is a national measure showing the chasm between the information rich and poor. The “democratic divide” exists online and signifies the extent to which people do or do not use the Internet for civic participation, mobilization, and deliberative democracy.
The global divide persists because of uneven economic development efforts throughout the world. Internet access is just another way in which the world’s poorest countries lag behind its richest. Wiring the world matters because not doing so “is likely to reinforce the economic growth and productivity of rich nations while leaving the poorest ones farther behind” (234).
Norris’ research suggests that main issue of the social divide in Internet access exists “in broader patterns of socioeconomic stratification that influence the distribution of household consumer durables and participation in other common forms of information and communication technologies, as well as the digital world” (234). This social divide will not close as Internet access becomes increasingly ubiquitous. Ubiquity will not wipe away prevailing social inequalities: education, income, and occupational status still matter, even in countries with richer integration of the new technologies (e.g. Sweden and the Netherlands).
Finally, the democratic divide. “Cyber-optimists” hope the Internet will allow for new modes of engagement, weaken if not take down entirely barriers to engagement, and “transform worthy but dull civic dross into democratic gold — generating a more participatory, egalitarian, and deliberative form of public affairs” (236). “Cyber-pessimists,” on the other hand, say whatever opportunities the Internet holds, it does so well within the confines of prevailing political interests — “politics as usual.” Norris rejects both the Hooray! and Bah! positions and comes up with three primary conclusions:
- Also, the Net isn’t capable of mobilizing the disengaged. “In this regard, the Internet will largely serve to reinforce the activism of the activists” (238). However, Norris does find evidence that the online community in the United States “is more tolerant of alternative lifestyles, more sympathetic toward new social movements, more secular toward moral values, more liberal in general on the social issues although more pro-business on the economic agenda” (238).
- Finally, the advances of digital technologies and knowledge economy are likely to benefit smaller parties and fringe movements, though the Internet has not created even conditions for all parties involved.