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Life without wi-fi

Seven percent of Americans still don’t use the internet. Most of them are elderly and say they have better things to do

Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Life without wi-fi
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Bill and Jean Kercher’s retirement days consist of calling family on the landline, watching cable television, biking, bowling, and thrifting in Goshen, Ind. One thing they’re not plugged into: the internet.

At ages 78 and 79, they don’t own cell phones or have internet access at home. But they don’t feel they need it, as they keep busy enough for their age, Jean said. She’s afraid they would spend too much time online if they had it.

The couple is a part of the 7 percent of Americans who don’t use the internet, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. That’s roughly 23 million people who live life completely offline. Education, socioeconomic status, and age impact one’s internet usage, with age being the largest determinant: A quarter of adults older than 65 years old report never going online.

The Kerchers’ lack of use doesn’t stem from a lack of knowledge on how to use it. Jean was a computer tech aid in the local school system and taught others how to use computers. When they retired, the couple decided they would be fine without it.

“We just don’t feel like we would use [the internet] very often,” Bill said. “My boy Barry says you need one, but when we get in a bind we call him up and he can readily access the information that I need.”

Roughly 23 million Americans live life completely offline.

The Pew survey also found that 14 percent of adults with a high-school education or less don’t use the internet. American adults living in a household that earns less than $30,000 a year are far more likely to stay offline than those whose annual household income is $75,000 or more—14 percent compared with 1 percent. One explanation is the average cost of a broadband internet connection in the United States is $61.07 per month, one of the highest rates in the world, according to BroadbandSearch.net.

For some, going online just isn’t necessary or interesting. That includes 89-year-old Barb Jewett, who also lives in Goshen. She said she has no desire to go online: The internet arrived at a stage in life when she didn’t need it.

“I’m a very unusual person I’m sure,” Jewett said. “I guess the things I am more interested in are things … that I have done all my life that don’t require that I have to have [the internet].” Jewett volunteers at the library and was previously involved in an Extension Homemakers group, both of which are in-person activities.

Jewett remembers in the ’80s that her husband’s office started to bring in computers. However, he didn’t want to get “involved” with them, she said. If he didn’t, then she decided she didn’t need to either. Decades later, Jewett’s decision still stands. When she needs to talk to someone, she picks up her phone and gives them a call. Occasionally, she writes a letter.

“I know there’s good things on it, but there’s a lot of bad things on it too … quick responses that you don’t sometimes think through,” Jewett said. “Communication is very different, you know, than what it used to be.”

Karen Sunderwirgh agrees that the internet has impacted the way humans interact.

The 92-year-old Springfield, Mo., resident learned to use computers when she worked as a registered nurse. As the internet became a larger part of her job, she felt it took away from one-on-one interactions with patients. Before she retired in 2004, she tried to have a computer at home, but it never worked quite right. So she went without it.

Even though she’s offline, the constantly connected world still impacts her life. She remembers going into a doctor’s office for some tests and the woman operating them never made eye contact with her. Instead, she only looked at her computer, Sunderwirgh said.

“I miss being with people one-on-one, not through a machine,” Sunderwirgh said. “I think I am much happier [without it].”

Liz Lykins

Liz is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.


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