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The lamentable truth about the mind-expanding claims for the internet has finally been revealed - people do not use the bottomless well of knowledge to advance themselves, preferring instead to indulge in casual surfing related to hobbies and music.

This is the conclusion of a Cardiff University study which shows that the concept of online "lifelong learning" has largely fallen on deaf ears. The number of adults in education has hardly risen since the advent of the net and less than half of people over 18 make use of the wibbly wobby web - despite its widespread deployment in public buildings. In the end, a person's background was more pertinent to whether or not they used the net for self-improvement than whether or not they could actually get their hands on it in the first place.

Report author Dr Neil Selwyn - whose team polled 1,001 people in Bath, Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff, the Forest of Dean and Somerset - told the BBC that "take-up of e-learning was lower among working-class adults, as had been the case with old-fashioned college courses. Conversely, some middle-class computer users displayed snobbery towards government e-learning programmes, seeing them as 'electronic YTS schemes' for the low-skilled."

This insight comes shortly after Labour MP Dr Ian Gibson slammed the government's failed £62m e-university as "shameful waste" of public money, and an "absolute disaster".

Selwyn maintains that just eight per cent of the population is "excluded" from internet access, but that 48 per cent had not used it during the last year. He gives the example of one man who "only used the internet to book his holidays twice a year and that was done on his behalf by a computer-literate friend".

The doc's chilling conclusion is this: "It's good to make access to the internet as wide as possible, so that no one is left behind, but we have to accept that not everyone needs it in their lives."

Sadly, web utopians will just have to accept that the internet is ultimately no different to that previously-hailed great leveller: the printed word. As the old saying goes - you can lead a horse to the complete works of Shakespeare but you can't make it read. ®

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