Computers, Phones, and the Internet: Domesticating Information Technology

By Robert Kraut; Malcolm Brynin et al. | Go to book overview

2
Portraits of American
Internet Use
Findings from the Pew Internet
and American Life Project
John B. Horrigan The purpose of this chapter is to outline the scope and patterns of Internet usage among Americans as seen through the eyes of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which has conducted periodic surveys of Americans’ Internet use since early 2000. The series of studies produced by the Pew Internet Project has, with one exception, provided snapshots of respondents’ online behavior. This series has the advantage of pursuing a wide range of topics and identifying trends over time. By producing research reports designed to appeal to a broad swath of the interested public, press, and policy makers, the objective of the Pew Internet Project’s research is to provide unbiased information about the Internet and its effect on people’s social lives. This research approach brings with it limitations; namely, the ability to delve in depth into some topics and, absent a panel of respondents, to pin down precisely the causal links between Internet use and outcomes in people’s lives. Nonetheless, casting the net widely in a series of research reports allows the Pew Internet Project to see trends in net usage that yield insight into the Internet’s effect on people’s lives.With this in mind, this chapter will summarize the Pew Internet Project’s findings in the following areas:
Social connectedness
Online health care information
Community and civic engagement
How users shape the Internet

Before proceeding, here are some basic facts about Internet penetration and trends over the past several years. When the Pew Internet Project conducted its first survey in March 2000, 46% of Americans 18 years of age and older identified themselves as Internet users, meaning they had access at home, work, or from some other place. At that time, 81% of adult Americans had access at home and 48% at work. By the end of 2003, 64% of American adults had Internet access—88% at home and 52% at work; about 4% of Internet users have Internet access only at a place other than home or work. Throughout the life of the project, between 50% and 60% of online Americans say that they go online on the typical day, a number that tends to fluctuate seasonally, with fewer people logging on during the average day in the summer months and more logging on in the winter. For teens (ages 12 to 17 years), 73% were online as of the end of 2000—a figure that rose to 79% by middle of 2003. Between teens and adults, about 148 million Americans were Internet users by the end of 2003.

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