What aren’t you online? There are some common reasons


This weekend I am doing basic computer and Internet Introduction training on the Fond du Lac reservation. Many class attendees qualify for a free computer through PCs for People. It’s a nice one-two punch at the digital divide – get people who aren’t online a computer and some training and as a bonus, they meet other people in the community who are in the same learning curve so that they can help each other.

It’s been a long time since I have done basic computer training. It’s something that everyone who touches broadband policy ought to do at least once a year. Because there are smart people who don’t know how to turn on a computer – because they’ve never learned how. You say click on the start button and they touch the image on the screen with their finger – because that’s a lot more intuitive than using a mouse. And here’s the funny thing, touching the start button on my touch screen laptop would work, but my laptop is a little spendy! So eventually the technology will catch up with people – but until then there are barriers.

Pew Internet recently posted a list of “lesser known facts” on people who aren’t online. Here’s their list…

  • Many of them are “secondary internet users”: 44% of offline adults have asked a friend or family member to look something up or complete a task on the internet for them.
  • Notable numbers of them live in homes with internet connections: 23% of offline adults live in a household where someone else uses the internet at home, a proportion that has remained relatively steady for over a decade.
  • A share of them used to be online, but have since dropped off: 14% of offline adults say that they once used to use the internet, but have since stopped for some reason.
  • Age is one of the strongest factors related to non-internet use, followed by education and income. Over half of seniors who did not attend college or live in households earning less than $50,000 per year are offline.
  • A share of non-internet users live in cities: among urban residents, 14% are offline.
  • A rising share of them cite “usability” issues as their main barrier: 32% now say they don’t use the internet because they say it is not easy for them to use. These non-users say it is difficult or frustrating to go online, they are physically unable, or they are worried about other issues such as spam, spyware and hackers. This figure is considerably higher than in earlier surveys. In 2009 when we asked that same question, only 12% of offline Americans cited usability issues as a reason for not being online.
  • Most of them say they would need help going online: 63% of offline Americans say they would need someone to help them go online if they choose to use the internet in the future.

I have to say the list coincides with what I’ve seen in the classes. People have kids or grandkids at home who get online with a smartphone or device. They come to classes at night and at weekends to get computers to look for work, help their kids with school or a week before Christmas they may be thinking about gifting the computer to kids.

Most folks have an email address – often through work or because a kid (or grandkid) has set them up. Some use a computer at work – but it reminds me of when I cooked a t a restaurant. I was great so long as I had “#2 sauce” and someone did all of the prep. Understanding how to do some tasks online doesn’t give you over all knowledge of how to use the computer to accomplish other tasks. Most people are a little nervous about making purchases online or about what their kids are doing online.

For some folks, generally older folks, learning motor skills, such as typing and using a mouse, is a barrier.

Some attendees live next to libraries, schools or coffee shops with hotspots – so they have ways to get online once they get their computers. They are pretty well versed in wireless options, but they could also use some support getting online. Again, lots of people would rely on their kids. And relying on kids for mousing skills or to get set up on Facebook makes sense. But sometimes relying on kids, who may or may not understand budgets, to choose an ISP makes less sense.

The people who were most interested in getting online had a specific goal in mind – talking to grandkids, tracking kids at school, getting a job or transferring thousands of CDs to MP3s for the gym. The actual reason didn’t seem to matter – but the motivation of having a reason was key to getting people to engage in the class.