Some people stopped using the internet already 15 years ago

Sebastian Greger

Looking at the trace of “non-users” in the history of technology research, the work of James E. Katz and Ronald E. Rice is not to be missed. In their 2002 book “Social consequences of Internet use: access, involvement, and interaction” , they describe a research project which - as an unexpected side product - brought forth the understanding of a group of people who could be described as internet drop-outs:

Initial adopters who stop using a technology may be “owners” of the technology but certainly cannot be considered users (p. 71)

Up until then (and often still today), non-users of technology were mainly conceptualized of “not-yet users”, in the case of internet technology particularly as those on the “losers’ side” of the digital divide: individuals involuntarily excluded from using technology.


Dropping out has a meaning

Given that the study was based on data from 1995-2000 and considering the rapid change the internet has since undergone, the numbers revealed back then will no longer be of relevance.

Also, the study in question investigated the use of the internet as a whole, while today the network is so deeply interwoven with everyday life in most societies that a more granular observation of the phenomenon might be needed.

Yet, to my knowledge, it was one of the first academic publications in the field that described a previously hidden group of people with a very specific relation to technology: they had stopped using it.


An early segmentation of not-anymore-users

The original article on the project, “Internet dropouts in the USA. The invisible group.”  from 1998, brought forth four reasons for dropping out (p. 338):

  • loss of physical access,
  • lack of interest,
  • problems with usage,
  • and high costs.

Even today, after non-users have received somewhat more attention, the 1998 list of reasons for becoming a “drop-out”  still appears to provide a pretty good overall segmentation of people dropping technology.



Katz, J. E., & Aspden, P. (1998). Internet dropouts in the USA. The invisible group. Telecommunications Policy, 22(4-5), 327–339.

Katz, J. E., & Rice, R. E. (2002). Social consequences of Internet use: access, involvement, and interaction. MIT Press.

I'm Sebastian, Sociologist and Interaction Designer. This journal is mostly about bringing toge­ther social science and design for inclusive, privacy-focused, and sustainable "human-first" digital strategies. I also tend to a "digital garden" with carefully curated resources.

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