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Future Scenario: Leaving 36% of the country behind?

A future scenario that envisions that all Americans will get government information directly from the Internet at home risks leaving nearly a hundred million Americans left in the dust.

Who dares to believe that a significant portion of US Citizens will be offline in the coming years? Business Week, as reported by public relations specialist Shel Holtz:

The [3/20/2006 Business Week] article that struck me: Why the Web is Hitting a Wall (paid subscription required). The article by Roger Crockett reports on a Parks Associates survey that reveals 39 million American households do not have Internet access—meaning only 64% of households do. (And only a small percentage of these read blogs or listen to podcasts!)

The study broke down the reasons why so many Americans are avoiding the Net. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to assume they’re all just getting what they need at work. In fact, that rationale accounts for only 31% of nonusers, according to the study. Sixty percent of people over 65 aren’t connected. There are 6 million homes with PCs but no Internet connection, and most of them wouldn’t subscribe to Net access at any price. Another million say they’re not interested in “anything” on the Net.

Analysts anticipate the total online US population will only reach 67% by 2009.

What is the advice of this experienced communications specialist for businesses with clear stakes in reaching customers?

The bottom line is simple: Abandon traditional methods of communication for social media and you also abandon 36% of the total consumer market. Sadly, rather than shift all your efforts to social media, you’ll just have to allocate the resources to do both.

We hear so much talk that government should be run like a business. Perhaps that should include making government information available in formats that a hundred million Americans can use and relegating paper and fiche to the “legacy” age?

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1 Comment

  1. good points Daniel. The assumption that everyone’s online and that everyone’s tech-savvy (and there have been other articles that I’ve read recently but can’t put my cursor on) is just that, an assumption, a myth. Just because someone uses a cell phone and downloads music to their ipod, doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily tech-savvy. It just means that they have disposable income. [/rant]

    Like businesses, libraries will not be able to shift to online only services (collections, reference…) but will need to do both online and “legacy” services and collections. We better figure out sustainable ways to connect with and give services to those that are not connected. I worry that responsibility for printing costs of digital govt documents is being shifted from the govt (where it belongs) to libraries and individuals.

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