New Pew study of the digital divide

As part of their ongoing “Pew Internet and American Life Project”, Pew released a study today based on a telephone survey of 2001 adults on digital divide issues. The report found that 68% of American adults (137 million people) use the Internet, 32% (65 million) do not; those who do not use the Internet are still the elderly, those with less educational attainment, and are more likely to be African-American.

There are two results from this study worth further discussion. First (page 3 of the report):

“Fully 22% of Americans say that they have never used the internet or email and do not live in internet-connected households. These truly disconnected adults occupy essentially the same percentage of the population as in 2002, when 23% of American adults said they have never used the internet and do not live with anyone who has access. This group is overwhelmingly over the age of 65 and less educated than the rest of the population.”

Of the non-users, 32% said they simply had no interest in being online.

Second, they break Internet access into three categories: those with no access, those with slow or sporatic access, and those who are wired. But what is very interesting about this is that they find that connection speed is the most significant predictor of what people do while connected (page 6). Perhaps not suprisingly, adults who are wired are more likely to do the things online that are easier to do with broadband access (access news and information, purchase products online, engage in online banking, etc). And of course it is worth noting that 11% of broadband users have created a blog (like us), while only 4% of dial-up users are blogging!

These results have some implications for the topics we have been discussing in recent weeks, from the use of new technologies for election administration, to voter education efforts over the Internet, and to the continuing discussion over Internet voting. One of the immediate issues that these digital divide data raise concerns efforts to use the Internet for voter and poll site worker education programs; clearly, if the non-connected or slowly-connected populations continue to stay of the current size (and continue to be concentrated in certain segments of society), strategies will need to be devised to insure that voter education efforts are in place for those who are not connected or who are connected via dial-up means.