Information Societies or “ICT Equipment Societies?”

Measuring the Digital Information-Processing Capacity of a Society in Bits and Bytes

The Information Society


The digital divide is conventionally measured in terms of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment diffusion, which comes down to counting the number of computers or phones, among other devices. This article fine-tunes these approximations by estimating the amount of digital information that is stored, communicated, and computed by these devices. The installed stock of ICT equipment in the consumer segment is multiplied with its corresponding technological performance, resulting in the “installed technological capacity” for storage (in bits), bandwidth (in bits per second), and computational power (in computations per second). This leads to new insights. Despite the rapidly decreasing digital equipment divide, there is an increasing gap in terms of information-processing capacity. It is shown that in 1996 the average inhabitant of the industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had a capacity of 49 kibps more than its counterpart from Latin America and the Caribbean. Ten years later, this gap widened to 577 kibps per inhabitant. This innovative approach toward the quantification of the digital divide leads to numerous new challenges for the research agenda.