The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has reported on a survey of non-Internet households:
For many Americans, having high-speed access to the Internet at home is as vital as electricity, heat and water. And yet about one-third of the population, 93 million people, have elected not to connect.
It’s not surprising that the ranks of the non-connected are disproportionately
- rural residents, and
- less affluent.
It’s also not surprising that the reasons given for not opting into the Information Superhighway (remember that moniker?) include
- discomfort with computers, and
- the view that that the Internet is a "waste of time".
Congress wants the FCC to provide a plan for increasing the adoption of broadband Internet access, and the guy who managed the survey says that lack of Internet access puts those people “at a distinct disadvantage.”
Well, yes and no.
In the early 1990s, as the worldwide web was beginning to take off, a couple in their 80s asked me if they “need a computer.” Hm, I said, that depends upon what you mean by “need.” I suggested that if they wanted to learn about computers and the Internet, and embrace the upcoming technology, they absolutely should get a computer. But they don’t need one. I still think that’s true.
Whether you need to be on the Internet, and are “at a distinct disadvantage” without it, is still a question of what you will do with it, and what stage of your life you’re in.
Children — and families with children — are almost certainly at a distinct disadvantage without ready access to the Internet. The educational and social opportunities that such children will miss are crucial, and that lack will affect the children for the rest of their lives. Unfamiliarity with using computers and the Internet will limit job possibilities. For a child in school today, not being on the Internet is almost like not being able to read and write.
Middle-aged adults may be at a disadvantage if they have a job — or hope to get one — for which it’s important to be computer- and Internet-savvy. If they have school-aged kids, of course, they should also be providing Internet access to them, and it’d also be good for them to be able to supervise what they do, and perhaps help them.
But there are plenty of people who can happily choose whether or not to deal with the Internet without being at any disadvantage for their choice. At least for now, we can still buy things in stores, we can still listen to the radio and read newspapers, we can still call people on telephones, we can still watch television. For those who feel the Internet is a waste of time, it probably is. We can easily get through life without the Internet, even if some of us find that hard to fathom.
One third? Yeah, I figure that’s a good estimate of the portion of the population that can manage without the Internet. The most compelling reason to address that portion is that the third that doesn’t have it is probably not the right third (the “less affluent”, above, for example).