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15 percent of Americans still aren’t on the Web

It was a tale of two seniors: Max Glenn, and a woman who wouldn’t give her name.

It was Glenn surfing the ‘net at McDonald’s; it was the lady simply waiting, hands flat on her table at Lakeshore Mall.

Glenn, 77, a former Illinois school superintendent, went online for the first time four or five years ago.

“We never realized that we had any need for it,” said Glenn, who retired 23 years ago. “How wrong I was. How interesting it was.”

“I want to contact people instead of them contacting me,” said the lady, who appeared to be from the Greatest Generation as well.

The lady is among 15 percent of American adults who still have not gone online, according to the Pew Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Why, in the age of smart phones and free wi-fi, would they not be on the World Wide Web?

  • Thirty-four percent of non-users think the Internet isn’t relevant to them, or they’re not interested, or they have no need.

  • Thirty-two percent of non-users think the Internet isn’t easy, or that it would be frustrating, or that they’re physically unable, or they’re worried about spam, spyware and hackers.

  • Nineteen percent of non-users cite the expense of owning a computer, or paying for an Internet connection.

  • Seven percent of non-users cite a physical lack of Internet access, even though it’s free at most fast-food restaurants, hotels and libraries.

Friday morning, Glenn was emailing a cousin up North who was researching their family genaology.

“He was asking me for information,” said Glenn, who had kicked back on a comfy foam bench to sip his McCoffee and punch and swipe the screen. He bought an iPad because Apple has a reputation for being easier to use, but there was another reason.

“We bought an HP laptop,” Glenn said, but his wife pretty much took it over. Glenn rolls on a motorcycle, and he needed something smaller and lighter for his saddle bags anyway, and so now wherever he lays his e-tablet is his home.

It’s strange that a school superintendent would have been such a Luddite, Glenn reflected, but back in the 1990s, his schools didn’t feel the need for the Internet. “That’s probably my fault.”

Maybe not. It seems hard to believe in 2014, but the period when Glenn retired were still not the age of computer wisdom; between 1990 and 1997, the percentage of American households that owned computers increased from 15 percent to 35 percent.

In 1990, just 3 million people in the world had access to Internet because Tim Berners-Lee had invented the World Wide Web just one year before.

Even among the 85 percent of adults who do go online today, Pew says connections vary: 76 of adults use the Internet at home, 3 percent still dial-up, and 9 percent of adults are wi-fi nomads.

As for the Glenns, it is a far, far better thing that they do than they have ever done. When they ride that Gold Wing on a road trip to, say, Alaska, they Google information and schedule events during the entire trip.