Why is the Internet useful? This question has been asked of me a few different ways recently by people who have never accessed the Internet directly and do not own smartphones capable of accessing the Internet. The individuals asking these questions still get their news from evening TV or the morning paper. They get their notices from companies via the postal service. And they communicate to loved ones via a wired phone in their home or a basic mobile phone which is not used for Text or Voice Mail. These are some smart people that have chosen this lifestyle and have not seen a reason to change.
Now with me being an experienced Internet user, of course I typed into Google the phrase “why do some people not use the Internet” and here is what I discovered.
There is a Pew research report from 2021 that revealed 7% of Americans don’t use the Internet. The research was enlightening and even surprising in several respects. I anticipated lower income and minorities would be a higher percentage. I was correct about income in that less than $30k/year was 14% indicating they do not use the Internet. Though the minority I got wrong as Hispanics and Asians were more likely to use the Internet those identifying as White or Black by a few percentage points.
I also figured age and education level would play a big part with older Americans and those who had not completed a higher level of formal education not using the Internet. Here I was also surprised. While 25% of those polled over 65 indicated that they did not use the Internet, 2% of college graduates did not use the Internet. I would have expected that to be less than 1%. 3% of individuals polled with some college education also indicated that they did not use the Internet.
One item that I did expect was 10% of rural Americans did not use the Internet. I can think of several factors including poor Internet experience with access to the Internet difficult and slow or measured Internet speeds causing a frustrating experience. In much of rural America, Internet is still being delivered via the same mediums that delivered it to cities in the 1990s and 2000’s.
Fiber is still being rolled out to much of the USA which has delayed a good internet experience to many rural communities. Communities where remote learning and telehealth could play a significant part of their lives. In reviewing this, there is still a big impact the Internet can play in the USA.
I believe that even though this poll put it at 7%, I would estimate that upwards of 20% or more of the USA could have a better experience and receive considerably more value from the Internet. While there is much truth to the memes about “I saw it on the internet so it must be true” there is also so much value that can propel this nation forward. It is a collection of tools that can be used for many things. It is not the screwdriver you try to use as a crowbar nor is it the wrench you try to use as a hammer.
The Internet is the view into the world and the encyclopedia which can improve life. Just as life, good and bad exist in the world, so does it exist in the cyber world, and one must remain aware of what one is viewing. Though I would much rather have a choice of what I view than be prevented from viewing it at all.