BT is setting up an initiative to find out why some people resist using the internet. The project will employ psychologists to closely study a small group of people to reveal what stops them joining the net-using majority.

Early research done for the project suggests that, for some, using the net is as stressful as a bungee jump. Official statistics on UK net use suggest that 39% of households do not have web access.

Net losses

Dr David Lewis, the lead psychologist employed on the project, said that for many people the biggest barrier to getting online was mental as many of those avoiding the net lived in homes with a dedicated connection. He said: “More often the barriers are internal, stemming from a fear of the technology.” “It will be interesting to see whether the trial will be enough to build the participants’ online confidence, or whether more needs to be done in terms of support and guidance to help them to become tech savvy,” he said.

By contrast to novices, many seasoned net users find the experience of going online very relaxing, said Dr Lewis. The psychologists on the project will take readings of physiological changes reluctant net users undergo when they go online. BT has chosen four subjects who will be studied closely as they are coached to use the net to find out why they fear using it.

To acquaint them with online life, the four subjects have been given a broadband link, a laptop, webcam and a digital camera. A two-month training plan has also been developed that will introduce them to what they can do on the net. The participants will also be encouraged to record their experiences on video or in still images and comment on what they discover. Their videos and images will be shown on the “Journey to Inclusion” website documenting the project.

Gavin Patterson, a spokesman for BT said: “The gap between the competent internet user and those who have never been online has never been greater.”