'Netless By Choice'

The head of the Texas AFL-CIO understands technology's benefits on future generations of workers. But Joseph Gunn's personal office is devoid of computers, and he would rather let his wife and staff surf the Internet on his behalf.

"To some degree I feel bliss in being ignorant," said Gunn, 69, one of millions of Americans saying no to the Net. "I'd rather read during what time I might devote sitting on the Internet."

A study released Thursday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that more than half of the American adults who do not currently use the Internet have little or no desire to get online.

They are America's Netless by choice, and their lack of interest suggests it will take a lot more time than many had thought, before the United States becomes a fully connected nation.

"There's this other group of folks who say, 'It's not for me,'" said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project.

According to the study, about 50 percent of American adults said they are not Internet users. Thirty-two percent of that group -- or 31 million Americans -- said they definitely will not go online. An additional 25 percent said they probably won't go online.

Fear and a lack of interest are among the main reasons.

Fifty-four percent of all non-users believe the Internet is dangerous, and 51 percent do not believe they are missing anything, according to Pew, whose findings were primarily based on an April telephone survey of 2,503 adults and have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The numbers suggest, however, that the Net naysayers will decline over time. While nearly three-quarters of nonusers over 50 said they do not plan to get Internet access, only one-third of their younger counterparts plan to stay Netless.

"It might take a generation" before the entire nation is comfortably online, Rainie said.

Thirty-nine percent of non-users complained about the cost of getting online, while 36 percent said doing so is too difficult.

The study also found 13 percent of non-users are dropouts -- they once had access but no longer do. Fourteen percent of all Americans have a computer but are not online.

Universal access may never be achievable, said Tara McPherson, a University of Southern California professor who studies access to technology. She said a small number of Americans remains without phones or television sets today, often by choice.

For Brent McCumber, 35, an insurance agent in Cadillac, Mich., time on the Internet would mean time away from his two toddlers. He doesn't watch TV or subscribe to newspapers, either.

But, he said, "I think eventually it will come to a point we'll have to have it. As our children grow older, I don't want them to be computer illiterate."


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