American Adults: Internet as Essential as Cell Phones

February 28, 2014

This article is included in these additional categories:

Digital | Email | Mobile Phone | Social Media | TV Audiences & Consumption | Youth & Gen X

Pew-Essential-Technologies-for-American-Users-Feb201487% of American adults now access the internet in some form, says the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project – and some 71% use it on a typical day. Results from the survey [pdf] indicate that the internet has become almost indispensable to many of its users: close to three-quarters say it would be very (53%) or somewhat (20%) hard to give up. By comparison, only 57% of adults feel the same way about their TV. That includes 35% who feel that it would be very hard – a figure which plummets to just 12% among those aged 18-29. (Fantastic fodder for the “TV is Dead” prognosticators.)

To some, it may be unremarkable that TV is considered less essential than the internet, but that hasn’t always been the case. Back in 2007, for example, adults were as likely to say that it would be very hard to give up TV (43%) as internet users were to feel that way about the web (45%). The year prior, adults found TV more essential (44%) than online adults did the internet (38%).

Broadened to the entire adult population, this year’s results indicate that 46% of all American adults would find it very hard to give up the internet. By comparison, the 49% of cell phone owners who say it would be very hard to give up their phone translates to 44% of all adults.

Social media? Meh. (According to the survey.) Just 11% of internet users say that it would be very hard to give up social media. Not many more (17%) said it would be somewhat hard. Those results reinforce findings released late last year from Ipsos OTX, in which only one-third of Americans claimed that social media is important to them.

In other intriguing results from the Pew survey, among those internet users who said that it would be very difficult to give it up, 61% said that being online was essential for “job-related or other reasons,” while 30% said it would be hard to give up just because they enjoy being online. That implies that among the internet’s most enthusiastic users, the internet has become an essential part of their lives rather than another form of entertainment. Of note, though: internet users are twice as likely to go online from home on a typical day (90% of users) than they are to go online from work on a typical day (44%).

Overall, the internet hasn’t only had an impact in terms of leisure and work, but also on Americans’ social lives. Generally, internet users report being more likely to have been treated kindly by others than to have been treated unkindly or attacked. And they’re far more likely to have found that online communication has strengthened (67%) rather than weakened (18%) their relationships with friends and family.

The overall verdict? Some 76% believe that the internet has been a good thing for society, compared to 15% who think it has been bad. And 90% feel that it has been good for individual users, versus just 6% who feel that it has been bad.

About the Data: The data is based on telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,006 adults living in the continental United States. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (502) and cell phone (504, including 288 without a landline phone). The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). Interviews were done in English and Spanish by Princeton Data Source from January 9 to 12, 2014. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ± 3.5 percentage points.

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