Computers in U.S. Households
Lee S. Sproull
By the concluding years of the twentieth century, the information age was no stranger in the home or the office. By this time the American household was extraordinarily well-equipped with information and communication technologies. By 1995, 99 percent of U.S. households had at least one radio; 98 percent had at least one television; 94 percent had at least one telephone; 81 percent had at least one VCR; 63 percent had cable service. In 1995, people over the age of eighteen spent about 3,400 hours watching television and videos, listening to the radio and recorded music, playing home video games, and reading newspapers, magazines, and books. 1
The newest and potentially most powerful information technology to enter the U.S. household is the personal microcomputer. In naming the personal computer "Machine of the Year" for 1982, Time magazine proclaimed, "The 'information revolution' that futurists have long predicted has arrived, bringing with it the promise of dramatic changes in the way people live and work, perhaps even in the way they think" (see figure 8.1). America will never be the same." By 1997, twenty years after the introduction of the personal computer (PC) 37 percent of U.S. households owned one.
This chapter offers a sociological perspective on the spread, use, and effects of computing technology in the U.S. home from 1977 to 1997. 2 It extends the focus of the two previous chapters on the development of computer technology and its role in business. In comparison with literature on other information technologies in the home, little has been written about the use and effects of the household computer. This has occurred for at least two reasons. One is that the diffusion of computers into the home is still in progress; therefore, documenting its spread requires tracking a moving target. 3 A second reason is that