Michelle McCudden is a Manager on the Client Strategy & Innovation team at Social Media Group.

As part of their role in documenting internet use, the Pew Internet & American Life project released a report last week on Digital Differences. Here are a few of the key findings from this research:

  • One in five American adults does not use the internet.
  • Among those who don’t, nearly half report that the main reason is that “they don’t think the internet is relevant to them.”
  • Adults living with disability are less likely than adults without a disability to go online.
  • These who are online are doing more.

Looking at the data, it’s clear that the digital divide is still alive and well for some groups. Traditionally, the digital divide has been thought of in terms of access–the gap between those who are have access to the infrastructure and tools associated with information and communication technology. However, the cause of the gap between the 80% of American adults using the internet and the 20% who aren’t is about much more than access; it’s about cultural use, ability, cost, time, and a host of other factors. In the Pew study, age, income, and education were all strongly associated with a lack of internet use, meaning that older Americans, and those with lower income and less education were significantly less likely to be online.

When asked why they did not go online, participants reported the following reasons:

Only 6% reported that a lack of access is the main reason they’re not online, challenging those who would continue to define the digital divide as being access-based, rather than influenced by cost, ability and demonstrated value associated with internet use.

For those who are online, they’re engaging in more and more activity – and building their skills in the process:

“While internet adoption has been more or less stable over the past few years, there has been significant growth in the activities internet users engage in once they are online. As a result, the gap in technical experience—and general understanding of the internet—between online adults and offline adults is increasing.”

So what does this all mean? Younger Americans, those with higher income, and those with more education are more likely to be online, and increasing their activity there. Those who aren’t online will continue to have decreased access to the information, socialization, and development of online skills, mirroring divisions in age, education and class groups that exist offline. But it’s not all bad news; more people are online than ever, and the gap is smaller than it was when Pew began the Internet & American Life project in 2000.

What do you think? How does this impact your thinking as someone active in the field?

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