Surprising Number of People Living Offline

There’s plenty of interesting material from the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future’s 2014 Digital Future Report. If you missed our previous articles on this study, this report is the longest ongoing look at our Internet use and behavior, with data from 2000 to 2013. In addition to what the report tells us about Internet users, the report reveals some interesting information about those who don’t use the Internet. Surprising as it may seem, there are still a fair number of people who don’t use the Internet. Historical Trends Among Non-Users Going all the way back to 2000, the report asked those who say they don’t use the Internet about their reasons for not doing so. In 2000, 19 percent said it was because they didn’t know how to use it, which is understandable. But what’s hard to believe is that number has actually risen: in 2013, that was the reasoning reported by 22 percent of self-described non-users, which makes it the single most common reason for not going online. How is that possible? That confusion makes this year the first during the study that a simple lack of interest wasn’t what kept most non-users offline. This lack of interest reached 30 percent in 2007, remained there in 2008, and then declined each year since. That could mean that the content that high-speed Internet plans make possible, like streaming video and more, is winning people back. However, we can’t say that for certain, as this isn’t the first time non-users interest has increased. From 2000 to 2006, non-users’ lack of interest in the Internet fell from 33 to 14 percent before growing again. The least common reason for staying offline is the cost, reported by only 5 percent of 2013 non-users. Internet Dropouts Among these non-users, 39 percent report that they used to go online, but have since given it up. And it’s not as if this group went online once and decided it wasn’t for them, because these Internet dropouts reported an average of 3.1 years spent using the Internet. Both of these numbers have remained relatively stable since 2007. Now that’s interesting—though we may not agree, it’s easy to imagine someone not interested in going online, or trying the Internet once, getting frustrated, and walking away. But to spend years online, and then give it up—that’s unexpected. Answers from this group show that while cost may not be much of a barrier to getting online in the first place, it’s the single biggest reason users stop going online. Nearly a quarter of former users, 23 percent, say they gave it up because their plan was too expensive. Another 19 percent said that they had broken, lost, or no longer owned a computer; 11 percent said they no longer found the Internet useful. Will The Offline Crowd Ever Go Online? As a whole, non-users report increasing willingness to go online within the next year. In 2013, 52 percent of users said it wasn’t likely at all—but that was the lowest percentage since the study began. Another 29 percent said they were somewhat likely to go online—the highest number since 2002. And 20 percent said they were very likely to go online, the highest number since 2007. The combined total of 49 percent of current non-users at least somewhat likely to go online is the highest in the study’s history. Having asked that question, the study then split the responses between those who had never been online, and the Internet dropouts. Among the former, 70 percent said it wasn’t at all likely they’d go online in the next year; 19 percent said it was somewhat likely, and 11 percent said it was very likely. This group is pretty clearly set in its ways. Each year the study asks the question, the number of Internet dropouts who say they’ll ever go back online varies wildly. From 2002-2005, the number dropped from 84 percent to 75 percent. It fell to 34 percent in 2007 before climbing to 48 percent the next year. In 2010, that number fell again, to 29 percent, but by 2012, it rose all the way to 69 percent. In 2013, it was back down to only 23 percent, the lowest percentage ever in the study. The report offers no explanation to explain this up-and-down response, nor do any related questions offer numbers that correspond to these wild swings. Tying It All Together To sum it all up with some broad generalizations: • Most people who have never been online say it’s because they’re just not interested in the Internet. • Most people who tried the Internet in the past and then quit did so because of the cost, and after three years of being online. • Although more non-users than ever express a willingness to go online within the next year, neither former users nor those who have never been online say they’re especially likely to do so. • Confusion over how to use the Internet was higher among non-users in 2013 than in 2000. Obviously, Internet non-users aren’t reading this article, but if any of you who are know such a person, maybe it’s time to show them just what they’re missing on today’s Internet. If you’re thinking about joining the offline ranks, maybe it’s because you haven’t shopped for a better Internet plan in a while. You might not know what you’re missing, either. [zipfinder] Photo By Andreas Beer/Flikr

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Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.

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