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Proceedings of the AoIR-ASIST 2004 Workshop on Web Science Research Methods

     

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From the “analogue divide” to the “hybrid divide”: no equalisation of information access in science through the Internet [FULL PAPER]

Franz Barjak, University of Applied Sciences Solothurn Northwest Switzerland, Riggenbachstrasse 16, CH-4600 Olten, Switzerland. franz.barjak @ fhso.ch

In analogy to the concept of a “digital divide” we can use the term “analogue divide” to describe the comparatively worse information access of certain groups of scientists when information flows were still largely taking place outside of computer networks. This analogue divide discriminated scientists that were younger, at lower positions in the hierarchy of their research organisation, of lower professional recognition, working at less renowned universities or in developing countries. They often participated only partially or not at all at the information flows in the invisible college.

The spread of the Internet has raised hopes that information access for those discriminated groups would be improving and that the Internet would contribute to creating a more equal basis for communication in science. Most empirical analyses over the last decade have nurtured these hopes and showed a more intensive Internet use for the less established groups of scientists. I argue that these findings were mostly due to the level of diffusion of the Internet: When the Internet was only one among several communication media in science, established scientists could still rely on other media and ways of communicating. Now, this has changed, and Internet access and use has become ubiquitous and mandatory in European science. Based on a data set of more than 1,400 scientists from five academic disciplines and seven European countries I show that Internet use is consistently higher for established scientists. This suggests that the Internet has become the domi­nant means of communication in science - to such an extent that any scientist, regardless of whether they are established or not, has to use the available Internet tools and applications in order to communicate effectively.

Therefore, the Internet does not convey a particular advantage for the groups previously discriminated by the analogue divide. On the contrary, the mechanisms that contributed to the analogue divide, like disparate resources for journal subscriptions and other published information and an exclusion from academic in-groups have survived into the Internet age. The divide has become a “hybrid divide” including the analogue and the digital world.

1) The OECD defines the catchword “digital divide” as “… the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities.” (OECD. Understanding the Digital Divide. Paris: OECD, 2001, p. 5).