About 10 years ago, technology researchers started to discuss voluntary non-use in contrast to the prevailing assumption that non-use is an involuntary state.
In their 2002 book chapter “They came, they surfed, they went back to the beach: Conceptualizing use and non-use of the internet”, Sally Wyatt, Graham Thomas and Tiziana Terranova suggest a “taxonomy of non-use” – a model to classify non-users that is so comprehensive it has not lost any of its relevance when discussing these issues today.
A simple, yet all-embracing, classification
The primary model consists of a two-dimensional matrix with a binary division:
- “have-nots” who are involuntarily excluded vs. “want-nots” who are voluntarily excluded, and
- those who never used vs. those who stopped using after being users before.
Applying the model leads to four groups of non-users:
- the “excluded” who don’t have access, regardless if they want it or not,
- the “expelled” who are former users who do not have access any more,
- the “resisters”: people who are not willing to use a technology, and
- the “rejecters”: former users who decided to not use the technology any longer.
Active vs. passive; global vs. partial
In addition, the paper contributes two more concepts that are of help in the discussion of non-use.
On the one hand, the authors make a distinction between “passive avoidance” and “active resistance”, describing the fact that not using a technology can be either a passive behaviour (avoiding use) or in its stronger form an act or resistance (a motivated effort not to use it).
On the other hand, Wyatt et al. differentiate between non-use of an entire system and of specific parts of it – this is of particular relevance as it acknowledges the complex reality of technology as encountered by people, which is rarely a binary issue of yes or no.
Wyatt, S., Thomas, G., & Terranova, T. (2002). They came, they surfed, they went back to the beach: Conceptualizing use and non-use of the internet. In S. Woolgar (Ed.), Virtual society? (pp. 23-40). Oxford University Press.