In 2018, almost four in five (79%) people between the ages of 16 and 74 use the Internet at least once a week . In the European Union (EU), about 1 in 7 people have never used the Internet. Thus, if our society has become an information society in which communication is at the center, it simultaneously creates exclusion and apprehends its evolution. It’s digital exclusion. Dynamically analyzed, many more people are affected by : the appearance of new technologies, making obsolete the previous ones, participates, little by little, to the exclusion of the individuals who do not manage to follow the step . Necessarily attached to social inclusion, however, is to understand what exactly is digital exclusion. The main solution for digital outsiders, whether voluntary or not, is to learn, to acquire the minimum know – how necessary to avoid exclusion. Finally, all hope is not lost because, to fight against exclusion, many solutions exist, sometimes much easier to implement than it seems.

The progressive march of modern civilization gradually increases, and in a more or less rapid proportion, the number of those who are inclined to resort to charity. ” Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoire sur le pauperisme , 1835.

During his trip to England, Alexis de Tocqueville discovers the working class neighborhoods of Manchester and raises the question of the paradox he is confronted with: the industrial revolution increases the capacity of wealth production and develops societies, yet this “progressive march” tends to increase the number of marginalized people. Thus, as our society evolves, it becomes increasingly difficult for some to “stay on the page” and accompany changes. Nevertheless, an industrial revolution is defined less by the new technologies appear than by the changes made. Today, in the era of information and communication, society is in full transformation, a true “information and digital revolution”. Just as energy (the steam engine then electricity) has made it possible to create factories, leading to a concentration of jobs in urban areas, the Internet and the digital revolution are gradually determining the organizational base. a “new economy” based on the network. The gradual extension of this convergence to all economic sectors changes the modes of production and consumption and constitutes, in fact, the basis of a new industrial revolution. As Manuel Castells, a Spanish sociologist, notes, The gradual extension of this convergence to all economic sectors changes the modes of production and consumption and constitutes, in fact, the basis of a new industrial revolution. As Manuel Castells, a Spanish sociologist, notes, The gradual extension of this convergence to all economic sectors changes the modes of production and consumption and constitutes, in fact, the basis of a new industrial revolution. As Manuel Castells, a Spanish sociologist, notes,Advances in computing and telecommunications have allowed an obscure technology, which had no practical application outside of computing, to become the lever of a new type of society: the networked society

The digital revolution, like any major technological change, is generating economic and social growth, but also crises. Moreover, the first great crises appeared with the industrial revolution and the speculations engendered by the development of the railroad. For a few years now, we have been experiencing the first information age crises on a variety of topics: data spoofing, profiling and digital smuggling, online misinformation, and more. Thanks to the digitization and development of the Internet, we are witnessing a profound transformation of the economic, social and cultural domains.

Because it transforms one of the most fundamental characters of humanity, namely communication, the digital revolution arises in all areas of human activity: of course the economy and the work, but also the education, cultural practices, social relations, or health. The spread of the printing press in the 15th century greatly contributed to the collapse of the medieval system and opened up the modern era. Five centuries later, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) could have similar consequences by enabling immediate communication between all, at any time and around the world and by opening access to the most formidable libraries that have been dreamed since Alexandria.

Yet if Tocqueville were to travel to our country, the report would be identical. With the digitization, some walls have collapsed: the cost of access to knowledge, communication with loved ones, travel …, but others have risen like the apprehension of new technologies that remains complicated for a whole party of the population born before its appearance, access to information and its exploitation. It is sometimes difficult for some to have access to a computer for lack of financial means or simply because of their disability. This is called the “digital divide”.

Understand what the “digital divide” is

It is possible to define the digital divide as a “breaking line,” a line of division between those individuals or social groups who are – or feel – well integrated into the “information society”, d those who are – or feel – excluded from this society ” [ii]. Border or fracture, like many other boundaries clearly drawn on cartographic representations, mental or theoretical, this line is difficult to see or even completely imperceptible. However, we do not live quite the same way on one side of the border or the other. At first glance, some would be tempted to assert that the digital divide does not exist as such, and would ultimately be a reflection of traditional socioeconomic cleavages: the elderly, disabled or destitute. The subject remains to be qualified.

Manuel Castells, previously quoted, distinguishes several “types” of society:

  • The primary society , focused on the exploitation of natural resources,
  • The secondary society , dominated by the transformation of materials and industrial production,
  • The tertiary society , society of the services.

To these is added a fourth type: the “information society “, which would constitute a new stage in the development of our societies, in which the production, storage, circulation, processing and exploitation of information constitute the new predominant economic activity.

The sociologist Luc Vodoz, professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), has for several years been conducting studies on the relations between social integration and digital integration. Schematically, he distinguishes those who are “inside” from those who are “outside”, that is to say those who are integrated (inside) or not (outside) into the information society. On the occasion of interviews he notes as follows: in the interviewees’ minds, there is an “inside” and an “outside”, a perceptible world of technical and social know-how – sometimes accessible and sometimes out of reach. In the same way that many people perceive themselves as more or less integrated into society as a whole, there are also many who feel themselves to be stakeholders or left out of access to the resources of the “digital world “. The finding is therefore very real that a real digital divide exists, corollary to the existing but not identical social fracture. From this fracture is implied a degree of integration more or less high.


Social integration and exclusion, “digital” integration and exclusion – Figure from Vodoz L., 2010

A strong interconnection between “digital integration” and social integration would position all individuals within the cloud of points. At the bottom end of this cloud (“southwest” corner of the graph) would be positioned those combining strong digital exclusion and strong social exclusion. At the other end of the cloud (“northeast” angle) would be positioned those with good social integration (globally) and the so-called “information society” more specifically. The “target of the rhetoric of the information society” indicated at the top end of the cloud simply indicates that according to the proponents of the advent of an “information society”, this is where should to locate everyone,

Thus, to determine this degree of “digital integration” and, a fortiori, the digital divide, three questions should be asked:

  • Is there access to ICT? Ease of access to a suitable PC, existence of a connection to the network, the costs are they bearable
  • What are the know-how? Technical and social know-how insofar as they influence the ability to harness ICT
  • What is access to content? The aim is to determine the capacity to truly exploit the technical, informational and communication resources that ICTs hold.

These questions, however, do not make it possible to establish the degree of exclusion / inclusion of an individual that at the moment twhere he answers. A number of factors may enhance integration, such as training courses or access to better computer equipment. Family and social relationships also contribute to the evolution of this divide, for example grandchildren teaching their grandparents the use of the computer or their telephone, since parents grant more or less limited access to tablets and computer. The opposite is all the more true that the “digital” exclusion can quickly be felt: the appearance of new technologies, making obsolete the previous ones, participates, little by little, to the exclusion of the individuals. Thus, anyone who previously knew how to use the “clamshell” phones and who can not or will not adapt to smartphones will be less digitally integrated.“Dynamic digital divide” , which refers to feelings of integration or exclusion as they vary over time .

The main problems posed by the digital divide

In the light of technological developments, many people thought yesterday that they had sufficient technological skills capital and that today they find themselves destabilized or even lost. Likewise, those who today feel security of the “right side” of the digital divide – and therefore, on the face of it, no compelling reason to strive to improve its level of “digital integration” – may eventually be caught up and overtaken. Thus the progressive obsolescence of material capital (for example a personal computer that is “out of fashion”) or cognitive (technical or other skills), patiently and conscientiously acquired, suddenly gives the individual concerned the impression that. Vodoz then speaks of ” digital Sisyphus“. Individuals thus have for eternal purpose to reach the required level not to be overtaken by the technological evolution, recurrent but still insufficient efforts, succession of hopes of “to reach the goal” and rough disenchantments [iii] .

The difficulties of social integration due to “digital handicaps” are felt mainly at work: more and more jobs require a certain degree of computer skills or, more generally, ease in the field of digital technologies. In fact, digital exclusion can have a direct impact on social integration and the ability to find work.

Conversely, the widespread use of mobile phones has accentuated a certain fear of social exclusion. In fact, many people – most of them young adults – know that they risk being excluded from the space-time of meeting with their peers if they can not be informed “continuously” of changes in places or hours of work. appointments that allow the use of smartphones via instant messaging services or SMS for example.

The error is not in vain or even preferable

Current education programs are constructed in such a way that the resolution of a problem is only envisaged by the construction of a linear sequential logic, that is, where each step must be carried out correctly before to be able to access the next step. In fact, errors are perceived as faults, sources of blockage or failures rather than obstacles whose circumvention is a perfectly normal learning path.

The logic is different for digital tools. The functionalities can be discovered and gradually apprehended according to an “error-test” logic. Whatever the problem, finding a solution involves “groping” to gain access to useful data or mechanisms. No matter how many mistakes or “fake paths” are taken, most operations are reversible. Therefore, the exploration of the multiple access routes to the solutions sought is an integral part of the use of digital tools. This method finds its place for example in (classical) algebra for solving equations. This is the “suppose and verify” method. In information science we will talk about “generate and test” ( Generate and Test) while in video games we talk about “dying and trying” ( Die and Retry ). The error is therefore quite acceptable or even necessary in terms of computing.

In addition, this approach is not totally devoid of intelligence contrary to what it may seem. Biological evolution can be considered as a form of trial and error. Random mutations and sexual genetic variations can be considered as trials and poor reproductive fitness, or a lack of improvement in fitness, as an error. Thus, after a long period of accumulated “knowledge,” the adapted genomes are those being able to reproduce [iv] .

As noted earlier, the digital divide is not necessarily based on an individual’s age or lack of will, as one might sometimes think. In hope, the digital divide is the corollary of the social divide. As such, it appears necessary to work to minimize this divide, whether by local actions or international actions.

At European level, the Union is working to reduce digital exclusion

Inequality and social exclusion are an important concern for the EU and part of the Europe 2020 strategy. Alongside spatial disparities (rural and urban), digital technology plays a special role in greater citizen participation. Technological developments and digital exclusion also contribute to the “growth of wage inequality. Although it is positive for general economic growth, technological progress increases wage dispersion by rewarding skills on ICTs, which are particularly valued in the field of economics. At the same time, robotization and automation tend to replace unskilled or unskilled workers ” [v]. The Union proposes to reinforce investments in education and the acquisition of digital skills in order, on the one hand, to reduce existing social inequalities and, on the other hand, to offer equal opportunities. It also involves challenging established work practices by training employees while creating new types of work.

In addition, an in-depth analysis of the 2018 European budget plans shows the focus on digital inclusion. Cyprus, for example, states that “in view of the labor market, it appears necessary to open technical schools specialized in the acquisition of these skills” [vi] . Estonia, particularly ahead in the digital domain, is planning an investment of € 600 million for the period 2015-2020 to support the acquisition of digital skills; “This is intended to motivate students to choose areas of growing importance to the economy and to support the growing demand of the public innovation sector” [vii]. Regarding France, the government plans, 57 billion euros for its “Big Public Investment Plan” ambition including the creation of digital training to form a “competent society promoting innovation” and the establishment of a government for the digital age [viii] .

It seems important to note that the EU was particularly ahead in the area of ​​digital inclusion since by the end of the 1990s, the European Commission had set up an ESDIS (Employment and Social Dimension of Information) expert group. Society) whose work highlighted the prevention of digital exclusion. They recommended digital literacy for all , the lowering of technical and economic barriers to Internet access, the development of appropriate skills for the efficient use of online services [ix] .




Bridging the digital divide at the local level

Several actors, especially local ones, have made the digital divide their object of work. Beyond the interest in these initiatives, it is also about having a clearer idea of ​​what, in practice, can be done to reduce the gaps.


Based in Brussels, Interface3 works to reduce gender gaps in the different fields of the world of work. There is a particularly significant imbalance in ICT literacy, system operation and the construction of computer objects. Less than 20% of women are now in ICT jobs.

The digital divide therefore concerns the genre and it is in this that Interface3 intends to provide a solution. This action involves offering awareness and introductory modules on information and communication technologies, orientation modules enabling women to discover the careers offered by the various computer science professions and finally , qualifying and certifying training leading to computer trades or trades making intensive use of these tools.

Emmaüs Connect

The foundation of Abbé Pierre, Emmaus, has recently set up a center focused on social integration through digital and the fight against social and digital exclusion. In fact, the association acts in the field closer to the needs of people in integration and professionals who accompany them. It designs educational resources and offers workshops to learn about key digital services. It offers solidarity access to equipment and connection. The association is also developing services (assessment tools, maps, training) for social actors and public service operators to better support the era of 100% online.

Old ‘Up

Old ‘up is a French association dedicated to reducing the digital divide imposed on the elderly. Starting from the observation that “the significant lengthening of life, unforeseen, unprepared, could not sufficiently lead to a blossoming of the elderly in society” the objective is to support all generations to digital learning through the acquisition of know-how and insurance in the use and presence on the internet. Old ‘Up conducts reflections and actions in the areas of accessibility and health, weaves the intergenerational bond, promotes older citizens’ contributions, useful in the evolution of the society of today.

These initiatives demonstrate that it is not necessary to put substantial resources in place to achieve results. In addition, it seems much more effective, locally, to offer training and support to avoid the digital divide.

In the era of the “all digital”, where administrative procedures are increasingly taking place on the Internet, the evolution towards a connected society seems inevitable, a full participation in the so-called “information society” seems to be imperative for everyone. There is, a priori, more room in our society, for techno-skeptics and other people who – for whatever reason – would be reluctant to the rampant computerization of multiple economic, social or political relations. By forcing the political compass on the “target of the rhetoric of the information society”, the digital and social divides will be superimposed and even confused, even if it means deepening the gap that was supposedly filled.

Jean-Hugues Migeon

[i] [Translation] by Castells Manuel, The Internet Galaxy , Oxford University Press, 2001, 292p.

[ii] Luc Vodoz, “Digital divide, social divide: on the borders of integration and exclusion”, Sociologie , 2010.

[iii] Vodoz, 2005.

[iv] Wright Seward, “The Roles of Mutation, Inbreeding, Crossbreeding and Selection in Evolution,” Proceedings of the sixth international congress on genetics. Volume 1. Number 6: 365. Available in English:


[vi] [Translated by the author]

[vii] [Translated by the author]


[ix] [Translated by the author]

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