The French Marsouin research lab just published an interesting study on people who do not use the internet. The study starts off with the various existing typologies to characterise non-users, such as those developed by the Walloon Telecommunications Agency or the ones from the Aquitaine region in France (pdf). When one starts to map out these profile characteristics (particularly those that are socio-demographic or economical), the limitations of this exercise become apparent. The researchers Annabelle Boutet and Jocelyne Trémembert stress that in order to understand the profiles of non-users, we have to start off with inversing the well-known statistics: 7% of those between 12 and 17, 91% of those above 70, and 4 out 5 of those who didn’t finish high school… don’t use the internet.
Their study was based on participative research in the sensitive urban zone of Kérourien in Brest, in order to maximise the involvement of the 125 non-users. As in previous studies, also this study stresses the importance of people’s social circle in the diffusion and the actual appropriation of use; “one makes the step towards technology or towards shared environments, when accompagnied by a close one”. In fact, a decisive factor with non-user is the absence of internet usage in their social circle. However, the role of close family members remains unclear, say the researchers, because we need to better understand each of their roles in the home: they could play a facilitating role (e.g. teenagers helping their parents using web tools), but also a censoring one (by excluding family members through discriminating behaviours and practices), or even a “proxy” one, i.e. as a usage mediator where the value is not so easy to determine: e.g. the teenager who sends mails on behalf of his mother, or helps her setting up internet webcam or chat connections).
In any case, non-users are not necessarily living within a non-technological environnment: 59% of the respondents had a computer at home and 49% had an internet connection. The authors insist strongly on the limitations of the definition of the non-user itself (users through third parties? those who gave up? those who refuse?) which covers a wide range of non-use (frequency, duration, level of knowledge, autonomy…).