One in seven Americans don't use the Internet

One in seven Americans don't use the Internet

Summary: And a third of these don’t want to bother with the Internet at all.


Don't we all want faster broadband? Don't we all envy Google Fibre users? Isn't happiness caused by good, fast 4G? Not necessarily.

Pew US Internet Adoption
Even in 2013, 15 percent of the US population doesn't have the Internet, and many of them don't want it.

According to the Pew Research Center's internet and American Life Project survey, 15 percent of Americans, approximately one in seven, don't have Internet access. More surprisingly, the May 2013 survey revealed that 34 percent of that group isn't interested in using it.

Someone should tell Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. However hard Zuckerberg tries, not everyone is going to be on the Internet or Facebook.

Kathryn Zickuhr, Pew Internet Project research associate, found that:

  • 34 percent of non-Internet users think the internet is simply not relevant to them, saying they are not interested, do not want to use it, or have no need for it.

  • 32 percent of non-Internet users cite reasons linked to their sense that the internet is not very easy to use. These non-users say that it is difficult or frustrating to go online, that they are physically unable, or that they are worried about other issues such as spam, spyware, and hackers. This figure is considerably higher than in earlier surveys.

  • 19 percent of non-Internet users cite the expense of owning a computer or paying for an Internet connection.

  • 7 percent of non-users cite a physical lack of availability or access to the Internet.

Some of this isn't surprising. We've long known that the cost of the Internet is a major barrier for low-income users, resulting in a growing digital underclass. Despite efforts to bring affordable or free Internet to more people, the gap remains.

It's also easy to understand, now that we are all but certain that the NSA has broken Internet privacy for potentially all users, that some people might flee the internet. But that some users would simply not want — not feel a need — to use it? That's surprising.

What's even more confounding is Zickuhr's finding that of all the people who are not on the internet, for whatever reason, "only 8 percent of offline adults say they would like to start using the Internet or email, while 92 percent say they are not interested".

Who are these people? Zickuhr notes, "One of the strongest patterns in the data on internet use is by age group: 44 percent of Americans ages 65 and older do not use the Internet, and these older Americans make up nearly half (49 percent) of non-internet users overall." The poorer and the less educated are also more likely not to be on the Internet.

That said, it's not that these individuals have no connection to the internet; "44 percent of offline adults have asked a friend or family member to look something up or complete a task on the Internet for them. And 23 percent of offline adults live in a household where someone else uses the internet at home, a proportion that has remained relatively steady for more than a decade. Only 14 percent of offline adults say that they once used to use the Internet, but have since stopped."

What this means is that for the foreseeable future, some people will not be using the Internet. So before you move all of your customer support, sales, and service to the internet, be aware that some of your customers still rely on telephones, newspapers, paper manuals, and other "outdated" media.

Will some of these media sources, such as newspapers, even survive? It's doubtful. Jeff Bezos' purchase of The Washington Post aside, they are being replaced by or moving to the internet. Still, especially for older Americans, the migration to the Internet is not occurring as swiftly as you might have thought.

Related stories:

Topics: Networking, Broadband

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Cloud Computing for All? Some Markets Are Still Waiting for broadband

    For many, the Internet and online working models simply haven’t intruded into their lives and businesses as it has for others. While this may be partially rooted in conservative mentalities and beliefs which are resistant to change, the more likely reality is that options for high-quality and affordable broadband service is simply not available to them. Without choices for affordable and useful connectivity to the Internet, online just doesn’t have the attraction it does for those who are “connected”.
  • The Internet is getting worse every year

    The Internet is becoming a cesspool of the worst of everything. Marketing spying, government spying, fake information, tainted search results, tainted reporting, nothing is what it purports to be and that's just the good parts.
  • Thoughts

    "But that some users would simply not want—not feel a need--to use it? That's surprising."

    You know - not really. I don't think I ever expected 100.000% of people to want be online. As great as it is, I do recognize that not everybody will benefit from it. Only a place like ZDNet, which is chock-full of sensationalism and exaggeration, could be surprised by this.

    "34-percent of non-internet users think the internet is simply not relevant to them, saying they are not interested, do not want to use it, or have no need for it."

    . . . and that's fine with me. I see technology as something to help us when we need it, not as something that should be shoved down the throats of those who don't wish to participate.

    "the migration to the internet is not occurring as swiftly as quickly as you might have thought."

    Well, that's probably because you were wrapped up in the exaggeration and sensationalist nonsense that online blogs are famous for. Calling something "dead" has proven to be an exaggeration 99% of the time on ZDNet.
    • Steven states the obvious

      Well sort of states the obvious -"So before you move all of your customer support, sales, and service to the internet". I hate to say it, but any moron that thinks everyone uses the internet and that internet only support will ever be acceptable ought to be fired immediately.

      The fact that Steven made the statement indicates that he thought, at least until this survey came out, that everyone (100%) use the Internet so a company could go to 100% internet support.

      Typically foolish, just average for Steven
    • No time...

      a lot of people also have so much going on in their real life, that they don't need or have time to "go online".

      I have friends here in Germany who also don't use the Internet. The are very full lives and don't feel the need to get a computer or get online.
  • Resources

    Most public libraries and senior centers have PCs with Internet access available for their patrons. Thus, many individuals who don't want to own a computer, cannot afford to purchase a computer or cannot afford Internet access do have options available to them.

    Also, don't forget that radio is available in most areas and includes programming such as National Public Radio, BBC World News, music, talk/call-in, etc. And, as for television, there's PBS which offers lots of good programming including the PBS News Hour, Frontline, etc. Oh, and public libraries have newspapers, magazines and books that can be read onsite or checked out for reading at home. And many public libraries have eBook Readers available for checkout too.

    P.S. Firefox OS-based devices will include an FM Radio app for listening to local FM radio:

    Talk about "outdated" media. :)
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Internet was much more interesting in 1990's ...

    ...than now. People in 1994-97 were making own personal websites while nowadays is becoming more like boring TV.
    Napoleon XIV