Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sitting out May Come with a Price

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sitting out May Come with a Price

Article excerpt

Even with prices of computers, cell-phones, and other high-tech gadgets going down, not everyone has been swept up by the technology revolution.

In the United States, a few people in rural areas remain left out by distance. And many have been relegated to the sidelines because ... that's where they want to be.

"An awful lot of people keep out of new technology by choice," says Linda Sherry, spokeswoman for Consumer Action in San Francisco. "They have no interest, or are offended by cell phones."

She says it's not about money: "I see all kinds of people who pull out food stamps, but they have a pager," she says. Electronic technology "is available to low echelons of society."

But it's becoming more difficult for those who want to avoid the Information Age to do so.

Some banks now charge those who visit branches and talk to tellers over a certain number of times per month. Their customer service departments have even begun keeping lists of customers who frequently call with queries or complaints. These people are often referred to online help that some cannot access, says Ms. Sherry.

Other companies require account numbers or even Social Security numbers to access help lines, and customer service representatives "are told not to spend a lot of time answering consumers' questions," she says.

"It's getting harder and harder [for customers] to get information" through traditional customer-service channels, says Sherry.

And the number of people without access to digital information "is a great concern," says Susan Grant, spokeswoman for the National Consumers League (NCL) in Washington.

At last count, 106.3 million Americans, or slightly under 40 percent, had access to the Internet, according to a Nielsen poll.

Even those who don't have Internet access of their own, however, can get it through libraries or schools, Sherry points out.

At the same time, more and more business is being conducted on the Web. Small organizations and businesses in particular "find it more cost effective to do things online," says Ms. …

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