One in 10 have no interest in the Internet

The proportion of Americans who use the Internet appears to have peaked over the past few years. Around one in five of the adult population doesn’t use it, and many see no point in doing so. It could prove barrier to shifting more public services and private business online.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has been tracking net use since 1995 when just 14 percent of adults were online. That shot up through the rest of the decade, hitting the 50 percent mark in 2000 and 73 percent by 2006. Since then it has hovered up and down by a few percent (suggesting statistical quirks as much as behavioral changes) with newly-published figures for last August showing a rate of 78 percent.

As is a common theme, being white and male makes you more likely to be online, though the gaps for both gender and race are closing rapidly. (In the case of black and Hispanic users, previous surveys have suggested being able to access the Internet on a phone rather than a computer is making a big difference.)

Age, education and household income are now the key factors: there’s a consistent pattern that the younger, better-paid and more-educated you are, the more likely you are to be online. While 43 percent of adults without a high school diploma are online, the figure is 94 percent for college graduates. That may be cultural as much as the education itself: it seems virtually impossible to imagine that anyone who has been to college in the past few years has never used the Internet.

One development is that a majority (54 percent) of adults with a disability are now online, though this still remains far short of the 81 percent figure for adults without a disability.

The survey also looked at changes in why people aren’t online. Amazingly in the 2000 version of the survey, a majority of the “internots” believed the net was “a dangerous thing”, an option the survey conductors didn’t even ask about this time.

Instead, when asked to give a single main reason in a 2010 Pew survey, almost a third said they simply weren’t interested, with the other leading reasons being not having a computer, getting online being too expensive, and it being too difficult. When the various individual reasons are (somewhat roughly) combined, around one in four believe they can’t get online for various reasons, one in four say price is a problem, and just under half simply aren’t interested under any circumstances.

While that means around 10 percent of the population is highly unlikely to get online any time soon, that still leaves room for growth even without waiting for the inevitable increase in net use as elderly refusers die out. One route may be through mobile devices: Pew found that once people get internet access on a mobile device, they begin to carry out more activities online, even on desktop computers as well.


7 Responses to One in 10 have no interest in the Internet

  1. I'd be willing to bet "Not interested" covers a lot of "I don't know how or I can't afford it, but don't want to admit it" type answers. I got the exact same response from people who resist getting a DVR. All those folks will die out eventually. The internet is simply way too useful for anyone who knows what you can do on it and afford it to be not interested.

  2. I'd be interested to see the geographic breakdown. I do UX work, and I moved to the Upper Midwest from the East coast a few years ago. The average household income is pretty low in this part of the world, so many people use older computers and still use dial-up because broadband is too expensive for them. But we're also one of those parts of the country that has crap infrastructure – outside the limits of my town, there is no broadband except satellite.

    What's funny was I gave a talk at a local business conference about using Social Media. I was pointing out that while all the platforms can be useful, we don't have a deep social media penetration here and you have to consider that before investing business resources. Despite showing them all the cool stuff you can do and showing all the good ways you could connect with your customer base, I was perceived as "a downer" because I was pointing out that we really don't have a big percentage of people connected by mobile hardware, let alone desktops or laptops, because of the infrastructure issue.

    I think there are more people out there than you realize who aren't on the Internet, for whatever reason, especially once you get off the connected coasts. And once you do use it regularly, you find it hard to believe that other people aren't doing the same.

  3. If they didn't need it before, why bother with it now? Admittedly, the internet is still in it's "convenience" phase rather than "need" phase. Telephones were like this at one point too. Eventually, probably, the switch will be made and to do certain common things in our society will require SOME kind of internet connection.

    It's easy to forget, but not too long ago the only way to access the internet was through a computer. And computers weren't cheap. They were pricey and it wasn't easy to figure out how to do simple things. What if all you wanted was to email your family? Why pay over $800 just for that?

    Mobile phones–specifically Smart Phones–changed all that. By rolling the price of the phone into a 2 yr contract, it made phones seem cheap (compared to computers). The internet was also piggy-backing on an already existing technology that people were comfortable with. The OS on Smart Phones is streamlined and simplified so it's got a smaller learning curve, making it easier for people to use. It's no wonder certain groups of people who would not have been interested–or simply never had the chance–now connect through their phones exclusively to use the internet.

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