No internet? No problem.

Friday, September 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Some Americans day they're unlikely to ever pop up online.

They're not wired, and they don't want to be.

That's the conclusion from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which conducted a study of Americans who do not have Internet access.

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More than half of them say they have no desire to ever go online, the reports said. And of that 57 percent, 32 percent say they "definitely will not get Internet access."

The other 25 percent says they "probably will not venture online."

In other words, more than 50 million Americans have no plans to ever surf the Web, send e-mail, play online games or download MP3s.

"I think there's just a group of people who simply don't think that the Internet has value for them," said Amanda Lenhart, research specialist for Pew and principal author of the report.

"They see that it would help them find information, but they don't feel like that's something they necessarily want, or they feel like it's simply for entertainment."

Despite this anti-online sentiment, Ms. Lenhart said, the Internet will eventually become as commonplace as the telephone, which 94 percent of Americans have access to in one way or another.

The Pew report – titled: "Who's not online: 57% of those without Internet access say they do not plan to log on" – also noted that there is now gender parity on the Internet in that half of all Internet users are women and half men.

However, since there are more women than men worldwide, the participation rate remains slightly disproportionate.

The report concluded that most of those who don't have and refuse to get Internet access are people over 50, regardless of sex, gender or race, indicating that the causes of the so-called "digital divide" are changing.

"We have some data that show that in the past year, Hispanics and African-Americans have gone online in large numbers, particularly in the last six months," Ms. Lenhart said.

"They're embracing the Internet in a way they haven't in the past. The people who remain as the big group of those who are not online are those who are older Americans."

Aging baby boomers and senior citizens are the most resistant, the report found.

Indeed, the report said that 74 percent of people over 50 without Internet access had no desire to acquire Internet access.

Conversely, 65 percent of people under 50 without Internet access said they do plan to go online.

In addition to age, Ms. Lenhart said the survey revealed that education and cost remain secondary barriers to more widespread Internet participation.

Only about 17 percent of people with Internet access did not graduate from high school, while 83 percent of those without Internet access did not graduate from high school.

That is not a surprising finding, said Henry Binford, associate professor of history at Northwestern University in Chicago.

"I think that it is certainly to be expected that people with less education might have a more difficult time accessing a system that demands inherently a significant amount of literacy and reasoning and intellectual activity," he said. "Accessing the Internet, even though it's a whole lot easier than it used to be, is still not as easy as some other things in life."

The issue of cost discouraged potential Internet users not because of the cost of Internet service, Ms. Lenhart said, but because, for many, computers remain prohibitively expensive.

Still, for most older users who could afford a computer and the cost of Internet access but choose not to go online, the Internet simply holds no appeal.

When asked about the Internet, the report says, seniors who don't want Net access are "the most likely to express no opinion, which suggests that many have not concerned themselves with the Internet phenomenon."

"It doesn't matter whether the question they are asked relates to a potentially bad trait of the Internet or a good trait of the Internet. Many senior citizens consistently shy away from taking sides. It is fairly evident that the Internet is a technology that has not engaged them."

In addition to feeling that the Internet offers nothing of particular interest, elderly nonusers also said the Internet is dangerous, too expensive and too difficult to use.

The Pew survey also concluded that Internet users, contrary to some beliefs, are actually more outgoing and sociable than their nonwired brethren.

On any given day, the report said, 60 percent of non-Internet users said they had visited face-to-face with friends and relatives, while 72 percent of Internet users said the same.

"This report and previous reports of ours have said that Internet users love the Internet because of the way it connects them to other people," Ms. Lenhart said. "The people who are online aren't isolated."

Professor Binford offered a slightly more cautious endorsement of the report's findings concerning sociability in Internet users.

"Before I would conclude that the Internet, across the board, does not encourage isolation, I think I would want to see that data broken down more finely by age, by gender, by a variety of other variables," he said.

"We'd have to consider whether being on the Internet does or does not discourage people from not just talking to their relatives, but from talking to a stranger or attending meetings or doing other things."

The study was based on six months of telephone interviews between March 1 and Aug. 20 with noncomputer and non-Internet users.

The sample was 12,751 adults 18 and over, including 6,338 nonusers of all types. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Both Ms. Lenhart and Professor Binford agreed, however, that the Internet will eventually achieve the near total ubiquity now enjoyed by the television and the telephone.

"There will always be, I imagine, some residual population that doesn't want to be on the Net," Professor Binford said. "After all, there are people out there who don't want to have electricity and water. They're a tiny part of the population, but they're there. I think that will be the case in the future with the Internet."