Consumer advocate Ralph Nader longs for the good old days of the printed page. He's not just being "old school," however. He's worried that when the government begins putting out all its information on the Internet, too many Americans are left out.
Nader cites a report by his organization, Center for Study of Responsive Law, that focuses on the U.S. Government Printing Office's (GPO) move to publish more information in an electronic format only, reducing printing costs.
"For over 150 years, since President Abraham Lincoln took office, the Government Printing Office has played a vital role in disseminating information about the government to Americans," Nader said. "As the GPO moves information online, the digital divide between connected and unconnected Americans is widening. This threatens the GPO's self-proclaimed mission to 'keep America informed.'"
Nader's point is the people who don't have access to computers or reliable Internet service are exactly the people who need access to government information the most. For the most part, they are the poor, the elderly and those living in rural areas, where high-speed Internet service is sometimes lacking.
22 percent don't use Internet
A 2012 report from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project shows 22 percent of Americans over the age of 18 don't use the Internet. This equates to 50 million people.
In many cases this is not a result of economics but demographics. Many older consumers simply never embraced computers and now find they are at a clear disadvantage when they need to access information. Even many telephone books have been eliminated in favor of online directories.
The GPO's efforts to put an increasing amount of government information online takes a huge step forward in making this information more accessible than ever to Americans with Internet access. An unfortunate consequence of the shift away from print media, however, is that Americans who remain offline are increasingly disconnected from their government, Nader says.
The report paints a troubling picture of who is being left behind:
There are great benefits in making information available online," Nader said. "But if we shift in this direction oblivious to the unintended consequences, we risk losing an invaluable resource."