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Still, they've got women and old people for company

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Income, education and age as the biggest factors in creating the digital divide, according to a European Union report. It reveals that women are taking to technology in greater numbers than ever, and the over-55s are also gaining computer skills. But poor, badly educated people are still lagging behind.

Just to recap: the research has uncovered that people who can't afford a computer, or don't know how to use one, are much less likely to be online that anyone else. Just as well someone found out, really.

The report, eInclusion revisited: the local dimension of the Information Society, concludes that computer skills can help people avoid poverty, and warns that without action, Europe will become increasingly polarised between what it calls the e-included and the e-excluded.

Part of the problem, it says, is that the internet requires literacy, and lots of the content is aimed at highly educated people. It concludes that many people trying to pick up computer skills give up on their courses because none of the content is of interest.

Since it is possible to find almost anything on the net, we are a little perplexed by this conclusion. To horribly misquote Samuel Johnson, we argue that if someone can't find anything interesting online, they are probably not going to be interested in much at all. But the report is quite serious about its conclusions, and warns that being excluded from the online world compounds the difficulties faced by the poor and the long-term unemployed.

Still, the proportion of the European population using the net has not been badly affected by the addition of ten new member states. Before enlargement 43.5 per cent of the population was online. This has fallen to 41.4 per cent. All the new member states have at least 25 per cent of their populations switched on to the web, better than both Greece and Portugal. ®

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