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One in seven Americans don't use the Internet

And a third of these don’t want to bother with the Internet at all.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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