Who’s offline?

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Here's some interesting news.

Pew Internet reports that as of May of this year, 15% of American adults do not use the Internet.  This is based on a phone survey of 2,252 adults ages 18 and older.  The reasons they aren't online?

  • 34% of non-Internet users think the Internet is just not relevant to them, saying they are not interested, do not want to use it, or have no need for it.
  • 32% of non-Internet users cite reasons tied to their sense that the Internet is not very easy to use. These non-users say it is difficult or frustrating to go online, they are physically unable, or they are worried about other issues such as spam, spyware, and hackers. This figure is considerably higher than in earlier surveys.
  • 19% of non-Internet users cite the expense of owning a computer or paying for an Internet connection.
  • 7% of non-users cited a physical lack of availability or access to the Internet.

(Emphasis mine)

For purposes of the study, the definition of ‘using the Internet' is ‘using the Internet or email at least occasionally or accessing the Internet on a mobile handheld device at least occasionally.'  And going forward, people who do not use the Internet are referred to as ‘non-users.'

It's not a surprise that many American adults do not use the Internet.  I've met many people who claim that they have no interest in it or that it is not worth the money.  Many of those same people value other types of connectivity though, such as,

  • satellite delivery for weather data
  • topography data transmitted through cellular or satellite networks
  • VPN connectivity to a remote location
  • Dial-up connectivity to confirm a financial transaction

Many farmers who shun email and the world wide web are rocking some high-tech systems in their barns and tractors.  And how many times have you swiped your credit card and heard a dial-tone kick in?

These anecdotes led me to wonder how many of these non-users would be more interested in the Internet if they were aware of the possibilities beyond web pages and email.  I dug into the details of the survey and found this data on how non-users perceive the Internet:

Which means that about half of non-users do believe that the Internet is more than just entertainment, and nearly 3/4 believe that it would help them find things more easily.

What is especially interesting is that 32% of total non-users have decided that the Internet is not worth the trouble, for whatever reason.  (cost, quality of connectivity, etc.)  Let's spend a minute on cybercrime though.  From the survey details here,

Forty-three percent of non-users said that worries over online criminal activity and pornography kept them off the Internet. …

A number of focus group participants mentioned that fear for their own or their children’s safety made them reluctant to go online. In many cases, these users were unaware of ways they could safeguard themselves and their families (using filters, not giving out information, installing technological solutions, educating themselves about how to avoid what they do not wish to encounter online) and held misconceptions about the level of risk for things like credit card fraud.

(side note:  I thought pornography kept people ON the Internet.  But whatever.)

What I glean from these notes is that the focus on cyberattacks and Internet safety may have contributed to an exaggerated fear of the Internet.  When you're constantly hearing about foreign hackers and government spies and chatroom predators, how can you not be afraid?  Especially if your only experience with Internet safety is older technology that wasn't as intelligent as current filters and firewalls.

These numbers will continue to evolve.  Circumstances will change for some of those who cite affordability or quality of access as a deterrent to Internet use.   Some non-users will take classes and learn to overcome their difficulties.  And of course, future generations of adults are going to emerge from our K12 system as long-time Internet users.

Meanwhile, those of us who work in IT can continue to educate the people around us on the value of Internet connectivity.  Don't we want our loved ones to stay in touch?  Don't we want our kids to have access to awesome learning tools?  Don't we want our businesses to be as competitive as possible?  Doesn't everyone want to read the Barracuda blog?

You can get all of the details on this survey over at the Pew Internet site.  I'd love to hear what you think of it.  Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Check out our video channel on YouTube.

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