April 16, 2003

The Ever-Shifting Internet Population: A new look at Internet access and the digital divide

Part 3. What non-users think about the online world

Introduction

Non-users and users have different ideas of what the online world is like. Generally, non-users agree that the Internet has positive attributes such as connecting people to others and helping them to find information easily. But these favorable views are held by significantly fewer non-users than by Internet users. In addition, the positive attitudes of many non-users are tempered by fears that the Internet is a dangerous place, that its cost is beyond their reach, that its content holds little of meaning for them, and that they do not want to waste precious time online. Some non-users doubt their ability to master the complexity of computers and the Internet. In the end, the disadvantages of going online outweigh the advantages for the majority non-users, while a smaller group of other non-users feel positively about the Internet but are currently frustrated by other obstructions that keep them offline.

We asked all respondents in the survey their reaction to a variety of statements about the Internet. The table below reports the results of non-Internet users. Invariably, Internet users have a more positive view about the Internet than non-users. Levels of agreement and disagreement have remained stable since Pew last surveyed on this subject in 2000.

Opinions about the internet

Opinions about the internet

Email helps people keep in touch.” Almost 4 out of every 5 non-Internet users (78%) believe that email would help them keep in touch, with 47% saying they agree strongly. Not surprisingly, 96% of Internet users agree that email helps people stay in touch, with 72% agreeing strongly.

The Internet would help me find out about things more easily.” Almost three quarters (72%) of non-users believe this is true. The greatest portion of respondents (44%) said they “strongly agreed” with that statement.

The Internet is dangerous. Fifty-six percent of non-users agreed that the Internet is a dangerous thing, with close to a third (29%) saying they strongly agreed. In contrast, 46% of current Internet users agreed that the Internet was dangerous, and only 11% strongly.

I’m not missing out. Most non-users say “I’m not missing out on things by not using the Internet and email.” Fifty-four percent of non-users do not think they are missing out on anything by not being online.

Internet is for entertainment. Half of non-users believe that the Internet is almost exclusively for entertainment, while only 44% of Internet users believe the same thing. Indeed, a greater portion of Internet (55%) users disagreed with that statement than agreed.

What non-users would do if they went online

Many non-Internet users think of the Internet as large library, a place or tool for research. Thirty-one percent of non-users who thought that they would eventually go online, felt that they would use the Internet primarily for general research, searching for things as disparate as comparisons of prices on plane tickets or DVD players or looking for information about favorite historical figures or hobbies.

Others emphasized the communications functions of the Internet. Eleven percent said if they went online, they would email, instant message or talk to others in chat rooms. Smaller groups said they would shop online, or just surf the Web to see what it offered. Others would read up on news, sports or weather, play games and do specific research–like on genealogy.

“If you started to use the Internet, what would you like to do online?”

Asked how they preferred to think about the Internet, 61% of online Americans pick library as their favored Internet metaphor. In contrast, 36% of non-users said the same thing. Non-users are more likely than online Americans to believe that the Internet is a “peep show,” a “party,” or a “bank.” And not surprisingly, a much larger percentage of non-users (20%, compared to 5% of Internet users) said they did not know what the Internet was, or refused to answer the question.

What do you think the Internet is like?