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noun [countable]

a person who never, or very rarely, uses the Internet, usually because they do not have access to it



noun [countable]

a person who regularly uses the Internet

'Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox is spearheading a campaign to recruit four million nonliners, from the "less well-off", a sector of society, traditionally disconnected from the web.'

BBC News 17th March 2010

'Ms Lane Fox believes that being online is linked to good citizenship and has commissioned studies to prove that being connected not only saves money but increases happiness. As a key part of her campaign, she wants onliners to "pass IT on" to people they might know who are offline.'

BBC News 15th March 2010

If you're reading this article, then the likelihood is that you're a regular user of the Internet and that you have reasonably easy access to a connection. For many of us below a certain age, use of the web is routine, and our children have only ever known a world where going online is an accepted norm of everyday life. However the fact remains that there is still a significant part of the population who do not use the Internet, either because their social situation precludes access, or because they are part of an older generation for whom the Web still seems something of a mystery. These people are now being referred to as nonliners.

there is still a substantial proportion of people who struggle … because they don't have the knowledge or resources to use a computer or the Internet

Before the online revolution, we would go to the library to seek inspiration for a hobby, visit the travel agent if we were booking a holiday, and pop into the Citizens Advice Bureau if we wanted help or information. Today, the majority of us simply turn on the computer to deal with these and countless other activities. And yet there is still a substantial proportion of people, in the UK as much as 20%, who would struggle to do that because they don't have the knowledge or resources to use a computer or the Internet. In an attempt to address the issue, the UK government has funded a number of dedicated 'online centres' across the country, which give millions of nonliners their first taste of the Web.

In countries like the UK, typical nonliners are beyond retirement age, though they may also be younger people who simply can't afford a computer and/or home Internet access. If we consider the issue more globally, there seems to be a strong correlation between the state of a country's economy and the percentage of nonliners. According to figures from the International Telecommunications Union, a country like Sweden has only 12% of people offline, compared to over 50% of the population in Greece. In the developing world the digital divide (=the distinction between those who have access to technology and those who don't) is even more significant, with less than 1% of the population online in countries such as Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

Background – nonliner and onliner

Nonliner is of course a play on onliner, blending this word with the prefix non-, meaning 'not'. The term seems to be very recent, only having popped up in the last year or so, amidst a growing awareness of the need to help a significant minority who do not possess the skills or resources to access the Internet.

The word onliner dates back 10 years or more, and has made it into printed record, appearing, for example, in editions of both the Collins and Encarta English Dictionaries. Both words are of course derivatives of adjective online (meaning 'connected to a computer network'), which was first attested in 1950 and originally appeared in hyphenated form as on-line.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 25th May 2010.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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