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Lindsey Graham Isn’t Alone: 9 Percent Of Americans Have Never Sent An Email

How does he find out that there’s been a last-minute change to his scheduled meeting? How does he know whether his order has been dispatched? What does he do when he forgets the password for his Spotify account? These questions plagued me upon hearing that South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has never sent an email.

Graham, who was a U.S. congressman for eight years before becoming a senator 12 years ago, laughed about his email habits before adding, “I don’t know what that makes me.”

We know: It makes Graham part of the 9 percent of American adults who say they have never sent or received an email in their lives. That number comes from a report published by the Pew Research Center in April 2012 that used survey data to analyze the way American adults use the Internet.

It’s not just Graham’s public role that makes his avoidance of email surprising, it’s also his demographic characteristics. Only 3 percent of college-educated respondents said they had never used email (Graham graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1977, the same year the U.S. Postal Service recognized electronic messaging as a threat to its revenue). Graham’s annual salary of $174,000 also makes his non-emailing unusual, since more affluent groups are more likely to have used email: 85 percent of respondents whose household income was less than than $30,000 per year said they had used email compared to 97 percent of those earning $75,000 or more. Being white also increases the probability that an American will have used email at some point in his or her life.

In fact, the only thing that makes Graham’s communication habits less surprising is the fact that he’s approaching 60 years of age. Older Americans are less likely to say they have used email. But still, 90 percent of adults in Graham’s age group have sent or received at least one message, and even among those age 65 and over, that number is 86 percent.

Pew also asked why people emailed or didn’t. About a third of all respondents who didn’t use the Internet or email said it was because they were just not interested, and another 12 percent said it was because they don’t have a computer. Other responses included “it’s a waste of time” (7 percent of respondents), “too old to learn” (4 percent) and “worried about viruses/spyware/spam” (only 1 percent).

It’s not yet clear why the senator has chosen to abstain from email. Maybe Graham just really, really cares about the U.S. Postal Service — after all, he did sponsor a bill in 2003 to rename a branch in his home state the Floyd Spence Post Office Building. I assume he received the good news that the bill passed via a stamped letter.

Mona Chalabi is data editor at the Guardian US, and a columnist at New York Magazine. She was previously a lead news writer for FiveThirtyEight.