Why it matters that 15% of Americans don’t use Internet

A newish Pew Internet study shows that 15% of Americans 18 years or older don’t use the internet or e-mail. 34% of non-internet users say the ‘net just isn’t relevant to them. Another 32% find the internet too difficult to use or not secure enough. Read more at http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Non-internet-users.aspx.

How many people is 15% of those 18 years or older? In the US: 35,184,610. In Alaska:  78,427.

Where did those numbers come from? Here’s the worked out example for the United States:

  1. Visit  http://factfinder2.census.gov
  2. Type “United States” into the “Community Facts” search box
  3. Select “Population, Age, Sex, Race, Households and Housing ..” from the 2010 Census
  4. Find the line for “18 years old and older.” For the US, it is 234,564,071.
  5. Multiply 234,564,071 by 0.15. You get 35,184,610 and change.

As a percentage, 15% doesn’t sound like much. Wouldn’t you be happy if you were serving more than eight of ten people in your user base? I would.

But when you multiply 15% by large numbers like the populations of states or of our whole country, you’re left with large numbers. That should give us pause. It should especially give pause to people who think that all government information and services should be online. For example, if the IRS was directed to accept online filing only, you’d have more than 35 million people either unable to file or who felt coerced online.

I’m not saying we must tailor our society to the 15% of people who I think can be correctly described as internet dropouts. But I do think we need to offer analog ways of getting information and doing business with the government as long as millions of people are choosing to live offline.

I’m also not saying that we should give up on bringing the remaining 15% online, especially if the disinclination to using the internet comes from uniformed fears or ignorance about what’s out there. In these cases I think initiatives like EveryoneOn are useful. But we should be prepared to accept a “Thanks, but no thanks” if someone educates themselves about the internet and still decides its not for them.

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3 Responses to Why it matters that 15% of Americans don’t use Internet

  1. lfrankel9 says:

    My father was on the internet for a couple of years. When his computer died, he refused to get a new one. He said that it was a waste of time. He made this decision at the age of 83. He died last May at the age of 87 without regretting having opted out of the internet. Whenever he needed an internet search done, I obligingly did it for him and sent him the results by snail mail. Whenever he wanted a book that wasn’t available to him locally, I ordered it for him. I was his enabler, but that is what we do as a profession. We find information for people.

  2. Daniel Cornwall says:

    First, I’m sorry for your loss. Second, librarians and others helping the offline people are always going to be part of the equation. While a strong majority of internet rejecters are 50+, not all are. See http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Non-internet-users/Main-Report/Offline-Adults.aspx. A surprising figure to me was that while adoption of the internet by blacks and whites was fairly equal, about 24% of Hispanics report themselves as internet non users.

    • lfrankel9 says:

      I wonder if Latinos who aren’t on the internet are making a choice based on their experience of the internet or experiencing language barriers to their access to the internet. Perhaps they have a critical need for instruction in Spanish.

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