Today's typical online consumer is a significant departure from the first-generation Web user of the early 1990s, which consisted largely of so-called "computer geeks"-predominantly males between 20 and 30 years old, who were drawn to the Web for its freedom to explore and its no-rules structure.The Internet has gradually attracted more mature, mainstream users who have expressed an interest in Web sites that enable them to carry out basic everyday tasks. Middle-class consumers continue to be the core Web users for one simple reason: This constituency has been granted "unfair access to the Internet, which mirrors the socioeconomic divisions in society," according to a report conducted by Stamford, Conn.-based GartnerGroup Inc.

"Those who are at a socioeconomic disadvantage due to lower education levels and incomes are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to having Internet access," according to the report, "The Digital Divide and American Society."

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