Internet Not For Everyone

Could there be a population that time forgot? Are there people that don’t actually live by the immediacy of the Web? Apparently so, according to research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project that finds that nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of Americans experience life unplugged.

“The truly unconnected are the Americans that those who worry about the digital divide should understand,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “The reasons non-users stay away from the Internet are varied and complex. Many lack the resources to go online. Others don’t live in a social world where Internet use matters and still others have no notion that the communication and information functions of the Internet can help them improve their lives.”

Pew’s profile of the Internet population reveals the digital divide clearly. From their research, the average American Internet user is young, white, employed, well-educated, wealthier, and suburban. Gender is balanced equally among Internet users.

Users Compared to Non-Users
Users Non-Users All
Men 50% 46% 48%
Women 50% 54% 52%
Whites 77% 71% 75%
Blacks 8% 14% 11%
Hispanics 9% 10% 10%
18-29 29% 14% 23%
30-49 47% 32% 42%
50-64 18% 22% 20%
65+ 4% 28% 15%
Less than $30k yearly
household income
18% 41% 28%
$30-$49,999 23% 17% 21%
$50-$75,000 18% 9% 14%
More than $75k yearly
household income
26% 6% 18%
Not HS grad 5% 25% 14%
HS grad 23% 41% 35%
Some college 34% 21% 25%
College and grad school degree 37% 11% 26%
Rural community 21% 31% 26%
Suburban 52% 42% 28%
Urban 26% 26% 26%
Note: This table reports the share of the Internet population
that comes from each group.
Base: 3,553, March-May 2002.
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project

The Pew study found that 24 percent are completely disconnected from the Internet, but some have found indirect methods for using the medium. The study defines “Net Evaders” as the 20 percent of non-Internet users who proudly reject the online world, yet they are comfortable having others pass Net-based information on to them.

The “Net Dropouts” are the 17 percent who once used the Internet but quit after experiencing technical or ISP problems or lost interest. The number of dropouts has risen from 13 percent in 2000.

The reasons most cited for the lack of connection? More than half (52 percent) said they don’t want the Internet or they don’t need it, and 43 percent were worried about online pornography, credit card theft and fraud. Three-in-ten were concerned that Net access was too expensive, 29 percent said they didn’t have time, 27 percent thought the Internet was too complicated, and 11 percent didn’t own a computer.

A portion of non-Internet users are socially disconnected from the Internet, with 27 percent saying that they know almost no one who goes online, and 22 percent say they do not know of public Internet access points in their community. The report also found that almost three-quarters of disabled Americans do not go online, and 28 percent of them said their disability or impairment made it difficult or impossible to go online.

Amanda Lenhart, principal author of this report and research specialist at the Pew Internet Project said that approximately 30 percent of the non-users were users previously, while the remaining majority – what Pew calls the “Truly Unconnected – had no direct or indirect exposure. This group – typically older women with lower incomes and less education – had fears, worries and concerns about the Internet that could have likely come from the media, friends, neighbors or other communication channels.

An encouraging bit of data is revealed when respondents were queried about what they imagined the Internet to be like. The majority of both users and non-users thought the Web was most like a library – a very accurate description.

What do you think the Internet is like?
All Americans Users Non-Users
Library 51% 61% 36%
Meeting place 11% 10% 12%
Shopping mall 10% 10% 11%
School 6% 6% 6%
Peep show 3% 1% 5%
Party 2% 2% 3%
Bank 1% 1% 2%
All of the above 5% 4% 5%
Other/don’t know 11% 5% 20%
Base: 3,533, March-May 2002.
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project

Among the non-users, 40 percent said they would eventually join the online masses, with 31 percent of that segment indicating they would most likely use the Net for research. Communicating through email, IM, or chat was the draw for 11 percent of non-users, and shopping appealed to 7 percent.

“The Internet population shows much greater churn than most realize a lot of people are moving in and out of the online world pretty regularly,” said Lenhart. “It is too simple to talk about a digital divide based exclusively on problems with access when it is now clear that access issues change from month to month for lots of Americans. A surprisingly large number don’t want to be connected even though they have tasted what online life is like or live with the Internet literally in the next room.”

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