Every few years the Pew Research Center releases a report on some aspect of Internet connectivity and the digital divide. What makes the 2003 Report, the Ever-Shifting Internet Population, interesting is that it illustrates the Internet as a boundary object as well as emphasizing the, often ignored, variation within populations. Using phone surveys, focus groups and secondary data the report focused on non-users, negotiated meanings of the Internet and the physically challenged.
58% of Americans were reported to have used the Internet; this was up from 2000 when the numbers were at 49%. However, the data suggest that since 2001 new users had become stagnant. By 2002 Internet use was predicted on being White, upper-middle class, having a college degree, student status and residence in urban or suburban communities.
African Americans (A.A.) were least likely to go online lagging being both Whites and English dominant Hispanics. When adjusted for income and education A.A.’s still lagged behind the aforementioned populations.
Southerners and Mid-Westerners, at 45 % and 44% respectively, were the largest geographical areas were citizens were off-line.
Boundary Object - Negotiated meaning:
Non users and users had divergent conceptualizations of the Internet. The overwhelming majority of non-users believed the Net is a dangerous space/ place; half thought the Internet was just for entertainment, and most did not feel they were missing out by staying offline. Interestingly 20% of non-users had no concept of what the Internet was at all.
Various types of Non Users
Net Evaders: (20%) This demographic while not using the Internet they often had access via friends and family members who searched and retrieved information on their behalf.
Net Dropouts: (17%) Users who were once Internet users but have left- usually because of have poor equipment.
Intermittent Users: (27-44%) Internet users who stopped accessing for prolonged periods and are now back online.
The physically challenged:
18% of participants self-identified as physically challenged. Only 38% of this demographic were Internet users. Many lack access to adaptive technologies and are unable to access public Internet facilities. Internet access is especially important for this population as they are more likely to search for medical information and use the Net as an entrainment outlet.