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1 in 5 Americans are 'Internet Innocents'

A survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project reveals that 20 percent of Americans live in a world without cyberspace

When you're using the Internet every day as most of us are, it's hard to imagine a world without cyberspace, but that's the case for 20 percent of American adults, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Who are these Internet holdouts? According to Pew, they're senior citizens, Spanish speakers, adults with less than a high school education, and folks in households with annual incomes of less than $30,000.

Of the adults who don't use the Internet, almost half of them said the Net is irrelevant to them, finds the survey, which is based on interviews with more than 2200 adults 18 years old and older.

Most non-users have never used the Net before and don't have anybody in their household who uses it either, Pew's researchers discovered.

About 20 percent of Internet innocents say they don't know enough about technology to use the Net, surveyors find; and about one in ten non-users say they won't be interested in using the Internet or e-mail in the future.

Survey data also revealed that Americans with disabilities are less likely to go online (54 percent) than those without infirmities (81 percent).

Not surprisingly, the researchers find the way people are connecting to the Internet is shifting from immobile desktops to more mobile devices using wireless connections.

Most Americans (88 percent) have a cell phone; more than half (57 percent) have a laptop; and nearly 40 percent have either an e-book reader (19 percent) or tablet computer (19 percent), the survey says. Also, about six in ten adults (63 percent) use those devices to connect to the Internet wirelessly.

The proliferation of all these mobile devices may be having an effect on closing the digital divide that has worried some policy wonks for years. Some advocacy groups even contend that the absence of a broadband connection can contribute to reduced household income.

"Groups that have traditionally been on the other side of the digital divide in basic Internet access are using wireless connections to go online," Pew notes. "Among smartphone owners, young adults, minorities, those with no college experience, and those with lower household income levels are more likely than other groups to say that their phone is their main source of internet access."

Moreover, the surveyors found, African Americans and English-speaking Latinos are as likely as whites to own a cell phone and are more likely to use their phones for activities beyond just gabbing.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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