In 1960, 21 percent of Americans had no telephone. Today, the same proportion of Americans have no internet. Try calling the phone company or ordering something by telephone or buying stamps at the post office? You find that they funnel you to the Web! Even the U.S. Postal Service wants us to order stamps online! (In other words, they don’t want us to communicate in the way that is their business.) If you’re part of the 22 percent who can’t or can’t understand or can’t afford the internet, you can’t do business on the web, as these institutions want us to do.

So if you can’t use the web, you call on the phone. And you get an automated voice asking you to enter four-digit PIN codes you don’t remember establishing for that account. They ask you to speak at just the right moment, choosing from a list of options that don’t make sense. If you get into the circular hell of these phone systems, finally they tell you to go to their website.

My mother is getting on in years and lives alone. She does not like the internet. She did try it for a while when my brother bought her a computer, but it’s not intuitive, and she gave up. I think all the passwords and knowing when to click or not present more obstacles than she wants to learn at this point in her life.

I don’t think that 78 percent of Americans online is a strong enough statistic that the other ways of communicating should end. We still need friendly clerks at the post office and real people on the other end of the phone when people call. My mother needs a friendly person who can talk her through something.

For statistics about phone use in the United States from 1960 to today, see this.

The U.S. Census tracks how many people have access to the internet.

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