According to a report published by the Pew Research Center's Pew Internet and American Life Project earlier this week (a report whose implications have been widely reported on) fully 1 out of every 5 people that you saw in public today never uses the Internet. (Find the full 41 page report here.)
What does that mean? Well, it basically means that 1 in every 5 random people that you walked by today is either un-, under-, or simply misinformed.
It's hard for people like me (a person who is planning on no longer paying for an underutilised cable TV subscription) to think that a person's daily life wouldn't include the Internet or that it wouldn't be a major source for current information.
Consider the following graphic: link. Six, SIX companies control almost everything you can see on television (the graphic is a little outdated, GE has been replaced by Comcast recently). If you think radio or the newspaper industry is any better, think again. And if you think that the news you see is not a servant to the bottom line of the parent company then you obviously didn't see the network coverage concerning last years SOPA and PIPA debate (especially Comcast owned NBCs "coverage" "critics say it will lead somehow to censorship." emphasis added).
What's more, the report shows that the main reason people don't go on the Internet is far and away because they're "just not interested." In short, they think the Internet has nothing for them. At 31% that rationale is around three times as common as each of the next three stated reasons including; don't have a computer (12%), too expensive (10%), and too difficult (9%). By in large people are CHOOSING not to use the most powerful source for information exchange ever devised by the hand of man.
The conscious decision to NOT use the Internet is wholly different from what a lot of people assume about why people aren't using the Internet, I think.
When you look at the demographics you see what you would expect once you'd learned to expect it. The old, the uneducated, and the poor don't use the Internet. I first read about this problem, what's commonly called "the digital divide" several years ago when I read a government report which I had every intention of linking to, but, I've lost my printed copy in the folds of my office and I haven't been able to tread deeply enough into the millions of results from Google about the digital divide to locate it anywhere online.
Needless to say the concept of the "digital divide" is well-covered in the literature. From a global viewpoint, statistics show that in many developing countries only 1 in 1000 people have access to the Internet where in developed countries the number is closer to 600 in 1000.
In this country, people who live in rural and poor areas don't generally have equal access to the Internet.
But what does access to the Internet matter? A lot. First, democracy. The ability to compete in the political arena and have your views heard is increasingly tied to access to the Internet. Second, commerce. What you can buy and how easily you can get it is intrinsically linked to the ability to go online. Also, consider the advantages the power to know things, instantly and for free, means.
As a child of the 80s I'm old enough to remember when you couldn't know anything without asking someone who knew or pulling down the encyclopaedia. Both of these are naturally limited resources. I remember what it was like to be stuck with no money on the weekend if you didn't go to the bank before it closed on Friday. I remember what it was like to have no way to even find out what consumer products were out there to fit your purposes, much less the ability to order them. I don't want to go back to that. Ever.
But, apparently, a lot of people in this country are choosing, CHOOSING to live in the 80's. I think it's important for our country's future to understand why.