New research from Pew shows that about 20% of Americans do not use the Internet. It usually has been assumed that these Americans are poor or old enough that Internet adoption was not part of their generation’s way of connecting to the world. As it turns out, half of that 20% simply do not care about what the Internet can do for them. There is a cross-section of America for whom the Internet is useless, and they are not quite sure why it exists. Perhaps these people treasure a world in which they cannot watch everything — and everybody cannot watch them.
Pew’s “Digital Differences” report shows:
Among adults who do not use the internet, almost half have told us that the main reason they don’t go online is because they don’t think the internet is relevant to them. Most have never used the internet before, and don’t have anyone in their household who does.
In a world in which it is assumed that all Americans are wired through PCs and smartphones, the figure is impossibly high.
The Pew report says a great deal about how people who use the Internet access it. It is used for email, search, entertainment and e-commerce. The report says almost nothing at all about “nonusers.” Some of the reasons that these people reject the Internet can be guessed. They all fall into the category that the communication channels that existed before the Internet are adequate for these people.
The Internet is barely 20 years old. In the 1990s, almost all Americans got information through TV, radio and newspaper. Entertainment involved visits to movie theaters, concerts and plays. People paid their own bills through the mail with checks or cash. They handed their financial transactions through banks and brokers. All of these activities were adequate for every American until alternatives came along through dial-up Internet and then broadband.
Many people assume that because they adopt a new way of managing their daily lives that everyone will follow along. That assumption is false in many cases. Not everyone believes newer is better, at least when it involves the Internet. Some people want to mail their letters and actually watch their deposits go into the bank. And some people believe that the Internet will dissolve their privacy, or at least their perception of it. As Henry Drummond said, “All right, you can have a telephone; but you’ll have to give up privacy, the charm of distance.” Today, the Internet is something like that.
Douglas A. McIntyre