First-time internet users: Who they are and what they do when they get online

Source: Pew Research Center

Artur Debat / Getty Images

(Artur Debat/Getty Images)









Decades after internet access became widely available, Pew Research Center surveys show that about a tenth of American adults (12%) remain offline. But what happens when some of them take the plunge and connect? A new analysis provides a glimpse of the online behaviors of those who are new to the internet.

The Center provided internet-connected tablet computers to 112 people who are members of our American Trends Panel.These panelists, who previously received our surveys through the mail, had never used the internet under any circumstances. This change allowed these respondents to become internet users if they wished by using the tablets for online activities other than taking surveys.

This is not a large sample. Still, these newly internet-enabled adults answered some questions that provide insight into who late adopters of the internet are, the online activities they perform and their struggles with new devices. Here is what we learned about this modest sample of new users:

For starters, having access to the internet did not lead to more online exploration for some of the people we studied. About four-in-ten (39%) reported they had used the new tablet they were given only for taking surveys and did not attempt any other online activity we queried. This is consistent with past Center findings that many non-users of the internet say they are not interested in going online because they do not want or need the technology.

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