Survey Reveals 10 Biggest Trends in Internet Use
New digital divides emerging, credibility of Internet dropping
A decade after the World Wide Web opened up convenient Internet use to millions of Americans, 10 major trends have emerged to reveal how the Internet most affects its users, according to a comprehensive study of online technology impact by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School’s Center for the Digital Future.
Released as “The Digital Future Project, Year Four: Surveying the Digital Future” (formerly the UCLA Internet Report), the report provides a year-to-year exploration of the Internet’s influence on Americans. The project has explored the behavior and views of a national sample of 2,000 Internet users and non-users. “Of these findings, 10 broad trends have emerged that have particular relevance as we reach the 10-year anniversary of the opening of the Internet to the public: 10 years, 10 trends,” says Dr. Jeffrey I. Cole, the director of the Center for the Digital Future.
The trends are as follows:
1. In America, the digital divide is closing, but is not yet closed as new divides emerge:
The Digital Future Project found that about 75 percent of Americans can access the Internet from some location — home, work, school and libraries. The fastest-growing Internet user populations are groups traditionally considered the digital divide’s forgotten people: Latinos, African Americans and older Americans.
“Some lingering digital divide issues remain: There is still a divide based on Internet access at home. And, a new divide is coming that will bring with it a new set of ramifications: the divide between those who have broadband and those who use traditional telephone modem access,” Cole says.
2. The media habits of the nation have changed, and continue to change:
For the past 50 years, Americans’ time at home has been dominated by television. Increasingly over the last 10 years, Internet users have “bought” their time to go online from the time they previously spent watching television. And, the more experience users have with the Internet, the less television they watch.
3. The credibility of the Internet is dropping:
The credibility of information on the Internet rated high among users through the first three years of the Digital Future Project, and that credibility rates fairly high in year four. Nevertheless, the project found that the high credibility level for online information began to fall in the third year of the study, and fell even further in year four.
4. We have just begin to see the changes to come in buying online:
Several developments have affected online purchasing in the past four years. Though concerns about credit card security while buying online remain extremely high, the intensity of that concern is declining. Three years ago, two-thirds of Internet users were very concerned or extremely concerned about privacy of information while buying online. In the current report, that number has declined to less than half (46 percent). And, while concerns remain high, Internet users are buying more often.
5. The “Geek-Nerd” perception of the Internet is dead:
Since the beginning of the Digital Future Project, its studies found that going online has not lessened the social lives of users. The Internet has little or no impact on time spent with family or friends, or on sleeping, exercising or most other personal activities (other than watching television).
6. Privacy and security: concerns remain, but the high levels are changing:
In each of the four studies by the Digital Future Project, Internet users and non-users alike have expressed very high levels of concern about privacy and security. They fear not only for their personal security, but are also concerned about companies or individuals tracking what they do online.
7. The Internet has become the No. 1 source for information for Internet users:
The Internet has become the most important source of current information for users — the primary place they go for research, general information, hobbies, entertainment listings, travel, health and investments.
8. The benefits — and drawbacks — of the Internet for children are still coming into focus:
“Perhaps the greatest conflicts about the Internet emerge in our exploration of how adults perceive the role of the Internet in their children’s lives,” Cole says.
9. E-mail: “E-Nuff” already?
E-mail is still the single most important reason people go online. E-mail is a tremendous convenience, and for most users, it is a free service with enormous benefits. E-mail opens opportunities to communicate more often and with a much broader circle of people than we ever reach by telephone or by mail.
10. Broadband will change everything — again:
Just as the arrival of the Internet created a flood of social change, the spread of broadband technology as a means of access to the Internet is causing a revolution of its own. Broadband is changing entirely its users’ conduct with the Internet at home — how often Americans go online, how long they stay online, and what they do online.
To download the full text of the Digital Future Project, visit <www.digitalcenter.org>.
— AP news wires contributed to this report.
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