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Pew Highlights America's Digital Divide

Posted by Sheila Shayon on April 23, 2012 11:02 AM

The latest intelligence from the Pew Internet Project, the 2012 "Digital Differences" report, finds that one in five American adults surveyed don’t use the Internet, with almost 50% citing irrelevance as the main reason.

The survey, which polled of 2,260 adults aged 18 and older conducted in July-August, 2011, further reveals that 10% of respondents who don't use the Internet have no interest in doing so in the future, although 20% say they have enough technological know-how to do so.

The self-identified Luddites flagged by Pew included, primarily, senior citizens, Spanish-speaking respondents, adults with less than a high school education, and those with under $30,000 annual income. At the same time, the rise of mobile has narrowed the digital divide between white Americans and minorities.

"Even beyond smartphones, both African Americans and English-speaking Latinos are as likely as whites to own any sort of mobile phone, and are more likely to use their phones for a wider range of activities," states the report.

American adults with disabilities, about 27% of the US population, are "significantly less likely" than their counterparts to use the Internet, with only 54% saying they go online compared with 81% of adults without disabilities.

The study also found that as of August 2011, about 62% of American adults have a high-speed broadband connection at home, with men more likely than women and whites more likely than minorities to have broadband access at home.

“Having broadband strongly affects how one uses the Internet, especially as multimedia elements such as video become more and more popular. Even back in 2002, we found that dial-up users take part in an average of three online activities per day, while broadband users take part in seven,” reports eWeek.com.

Social networking sites were used by 65% of Internet users, and age was a key factor: 87% of those under 30 and 29% of those 65 and older say they use Facebook, Twitter and/or other social media.

Eighty-eight percent of American adults surveyed reported having a cell phone, 57% a laptop, 19% an e-book reader, and 19% a tablet computer. Gadget ownership correlates with age, education and income, e-book readers and tablets are equally popular with adults ages 30-40 as with young adults 18-29, while about a quarter of American teens now have a cellphone.

For historical context, in 1995, about one in 10 U.S. adults regularly went online, but by August 2011, 78% of adults and 95% of teenagers did so. “Those who do not use the Internet often do not feel any need to try it, some are wary of the technology and others are unhappy about what they hear about the online world,” Pew's report comments.

“The findings are a blueprint for understanding Americans' digital lifestyles and what gadgets — and supporting products and services — fit in where. Major tech companies create distinct digital lifestyles people buy into, which is particularly true for Apple, Dell, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and Sony among others. Apple, Google and Microsoft are in pitched lifestyle product competition, and should look to studies like this one to understand the stunning nuances connected, so-called post-PC devices bring to consumer behavior,” writes Betanews.com.

Pew's data supports the trend that many Americans are replacing home broadband with cloud-connected wireless devices, be they built-in cellular 3G/4G, public hotspots or a combination.

Pew analysts Aaron Smith and Kathryn Zickuhr write: “As our research has documented the rise of mobile Internet use, we have also noticed a 'mobile difference': Once someone has a wireless device, she becomes much more active in how she uses the internet — not just with wireless connectivity, but also with wired devices. The same holds true for the impact of wireless connections and people’s interest in using the internet to connect with others. These mobile users go online not just to find information but to share what they find and even create new content much more than they did before.” (Still, as psychologist Sherry Turkle argues in Sunday'sNew York Times, at what price "real" conversation?)

The Pew data also supports recent predictions that cloud-based activity will replace the PC as the center of our digital lives by 2014, and that while America's digital divide is narrowing due to mobile computing, it solidifies according to age, income, and education. 

[Image via Shutterstock]

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