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'The Net's not for me'

Why some people fight shy of going online

Anish Gangar | September 04, 2003 13:50 IST

"At first I thought the Internet was some software like an office application that is bundled with the PC," confesses Hasmukh Patel, a mechanical engineer. "I was shocked to see that through the Internet one can talk with a person who is located in another corner of the world."

There are still millions in India who have not encountered the wonders of a PC, let alone the Internet.

The reasons range from affordability to lack of appreciation for the medium. Then there are those who are older and reluctant. And those few who are scared about it being extremely addictive! Excuses or not, here is the story of the offline masses:

Nalin Ajmera is a stockbroker in Mumbai. He is not what you would call clueless. Nalin is well aware that the Internet can make him more informed about the vagaries of the exchange. He has been approached by online share trading companies. And has witnessed demos of trading on the Net. He also agrees that Web-based trading is gaining popularity.

Yet, he is not online! He is nervous because he lacks the basic knowledge to go online and fears the technology. Also, being a prudent businessman he points out "I cannot afford MTNL (phone) bills and dialup connections makes the WWW a world wide wait."

With a population of over a billion, we still find a mere 3.3 million online. The rest comprise a big majority of people who are not even computer literate.

Ila Mehta, an agent with the National Insurance Company, says, "I don't need to go online because most of the office work which I do doesn't need any online assistance. Moreover, as I am always on the move I do not have time to access the Net." She believes that at 43 "I am too old to learn computers. Once I tried to work in Windows but ended up fiddling with the mouse and clicking all around the desktop. That made me think I cannot handle this stuff." But her daughters Pinky and Priyanka use the Web and email to stay in touch with relatives in the US and help their mother to chat with them.

Vijay Shah is a businessman from Mumbai. "At first I thought the Internet was some international organisation which is like Microsoft and into software development. Although my son is just 12 and checks email, I have never felt the need or desire to use the Internet," he declares.

Swati Parmar teaches basic computer and Internet skills at the National Institute of Information Technology. She explains, "Usually middle-aged people are more reluctant to use the Internet than kids. Middle-aged people have the desire to use the Internet but doubt their ability to learn Internet skills… They know how to operate the PC but somehow are very sceptical about the Internet. They need assistance to even open a simple email account."

Does staying offline make you more sociable?

Dinesh Bhalodwala says, "I am afraid that if I get addicted to the Internet, I might ignore my social group. Hence I keep off it. I have seen my daughters stick to the screen and chat with their friends abroad. They simply ignore their lunch and other regular activities."

But he concedes, "I could get a lot of help from the Web because of my job as an income and sales tax consultant. Also with returns now being filed online, I might be forced to learn the Net."

Dinesh works on the computer with accounting packages and solves solitaire in just less than four minutes. Yet he somehow finds his tax matters less complicated than the Internet.

Not all PC users are okay with English

Date

Subscriber Base (Millions)

Aug'95

0.01

Mar'96

0.05

Mar'97

0.09

Mar'98

0.14

Mar'99

0.28

Mar'00

0.90

Mar'01

3.00

Mar'02

3.30 (against projected figure of 4.5)

Source: ISPAI

Hemant Desai, a retired bank manager, says, "I bought a new state-of-the-art Pentium 4 machine just a few months ago. My daughters insisted on buying a PC. On the first day when I logged in I read the news on a portal. But just reading news on the screen is boring. Moreover, I do not find the keyboard easy to master. Also the Net doesn't provide me the advantages that a print medium like a newspaper or a magazine does. I get a regional newspaper, whereas the English language dominates the Net. To add to the woes, it's quite uncomfortable reading from a PC, which also I cannot carry with me.

"To use the Internet in India is an expensive affair. As a middleclass person I cannot afford to pay hefty MTNL bills and cannot spend a huge sum on a broadband connection. If I get a connection at a much cheaper and affordable rate I will definitely look into it," he adds blushingly.



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