Help friends and family get online by showing them how easy and useful it is

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News on the latest findings of the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on Internet use underscores the continuing diffusion of the Internet.*

However, the findings also remind us of the difficulty of convincing a still sizeable proportion of non-users that the Internet could be of value to them. Apparently, 59 percent of those without Internet access at their home say they do not need to go online.** This phenomenon is what I have called the ‘digital choice’.***

EXPERIENCE TECHNOLOGY

As the ONS argues, it is important to focus training and support on this group of non-users, but the challenge is huge. In many respects, the Internet is an ‘experience technology’.****

Many people do not understand the value of the Internet until they actually use and experience it. You can tell someone, for example, how it is possible to search for a fact or other information online, but until they actually use a search engine, they often do not understand how amazingly powerful a tool is available to them.

HELPING HAND

I see very few ways of addressing this digital choice than for family and friends to work one-to-one with a non-user to find out what they are interested in, and how they can pursue that interest online. For example, older people are more interested in politics and government services than younger people.

Show them how they can follow politics or sign an online petition. Maybe it is online banking or shopping on the Internet that could engage a non-user, for example.

As more people use the Internet, there is a risk that users will tend to forget about the one in five adults who have not been online.

Try to take some time to show even one non-user how the Internet can be of use in their life and work. It is of course absolutely fine if a person makes an informed choice not to get online, but it is almost impossible to make that choice without experiencing the Internet first hand.

Bill Dutton is Chair of Ofcom's Advisory Committee for England

* http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/rdit2/internet-access---households-and-individuals/2013/stb-ia-2013.html

** Rawlinson, K. (2013), ‘Daily Internet use has more than doubled in past seven years’, The Independent, 9 August, page 28. Available online at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/daily-internet-use-has-more-than-doubled-in-past-seven-years-8752987.html

*** Dutton, W. H., Shepherd, A., and di Gennaro, C. (2007), ‘Digital Divides and Choices Reconfiguring Access: National and Cross-National Patterns of Internet Diffusion and Use’, pp. 31-45 in Anderson, B., Brynin, M., Gershuny, J., and Raban, Y. (Eds), Information and Communications Technologies in Society (London: Routledge).

**** Dutton, W. H., and Shepherd, A. (2006), ‘Trust in the Internet as an Experience Technology’, Information, Communication and Society, 9(4): 433-51.