mobile devicesWith the World Wide Web’s 25th anniversary right around the corner (March 12), the Pew Internet & American Life Project takes a look back at the Internet’s impact on U.S. society.

The defining advancement in information and communications technology (ICT) of the past quarter century, Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention has transformed society, and the Pew Research Center project has been there to monitor and analyze the Internet’s impacts since 1995.

Pew Internet & American Life Project researchers conducted a new national survey to mark the Web’s 25th anniversary. Assessing adoption and impact they found:

  • Adoption: 87% of American adults now use the Internet, with near-saturation usage among those living in households earning $75,000 or more (99%), young adults ages 18-29 (97%), and those with college degrees (97%). Fully 68% of adults connect to the Internet with mobile devices like smartphones or tablet computers.
  • The adoption of related technologies has also been extraordinary: Over the course of Pew Research Center polling, adult ownership of cell phones has risen from 53% in Pew’s first survey in 2000 to 90% now. Ownership of smartphones has grown from 35% when Pew first asked in 2011 to 58% now.
  • Impact: Asked for their overall judgment about the impact of the Internet, toting up all the pluses and minuses of connected life, the public’s verdict is overwhelmingly positive:
    •  90% of Internet users say the Internet has been a good thing for them personally and only 6% say it has been a bad thing, while 3% volunteer that it has been some of both.
    •  76% of Internet users say the Internet has been a good thing for society, while 15% say it has been a bad thing and 8% say it has been equally good and bad.
  • Responses also illustrate just how essential Internet and mobile telecom have come to be in American society, and how they’re being seen as replacements for older technology:
  • 53% of internet users say the Internet would be, at minimum, “very hard” to give up, compared with 38% in 2006. That amounts to 46% of all adults who now say the Internet would be very hard to give up.
  • 49% of cellphone owners say the same thing about their cellphone, up from to 43% in 2006. That amounts to 44% of all adults who now say cellphones would be very hard to give up.
  • Overall, 35% of all adults say their television would be very hard to give up, a share that has dipped from 44% who said that in 2006.
  • 28% of landline telephone owners say their phone would be very hard to give up, a major drop from 2006 when 48% of landline owners said it would be very hard to give up their wired phone. That amounts to 17% of all adults who now say their landline phones would be very hard to give up.

Sixty-one percent of Internet users who said it would be very hard to give up Web access said being online was essential to their jobs or for other reasons. That equates to about four in ten (39%) of U.S. adults who feel they absolutely need to have Internet access. Some 30% of those most tied to the Internet said it would be hard to give up access “simply because they enjoy being online.”

Examining the impact of online communications – whether email, messaging or social media – on personal relationships, 67% of Internet users said online communications had generally strengthened their relationships with family and friends. Eighteen percent said it had generally weakened them.

Pew project researchers highlighted the cross-cutting social impact of the Internet. “There are no significant demographic differences tied to users’ feelings about the impact of online communication on relationships.

“Equal proportions of online men and women, young and old, rich and poor, highly educated and less-well educated, veterans and relative newbies say by 3-to-1 or better that online communication is a relationship enhancer, rather than a relationship detractor.”

A large majority of those surveyed (76%) also reported that most of their online encounters, or those they had witnessed, had been mostly kind. Just 13% said they had been mostly unkind.

Furthermore, most Internet users said they had been more likely to be treated kindly than unkindly or attacked online. They were also more likely to say that online group behavior had been helpful rather than harmful.

  • 70% of Internet users say they had been treated kindly or generously by others online. That compares with 25% who say they have been treated unkindly or been attacked.
  • 56% of Internet users say they have seen an online group come together to help a person or a community solve a problem. That compares with 25% who say they have left an online group because the interaction became too heated or members were unpleasant to one another.

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