August 11, 2004

The Internet and Daily Life

Part 4. Different Groups’ use of the Internet in everyday life: Online experience and fast access lead to richer Internet use

30% of online Americans say the Internet plays a major role in their lives.

Thirty percent of Internet users tell us that the Internet plays a major role in how they live their daily lives. When asked about their Internet behaviors, this group we call “major players” describes how they are much more active and engaged in everyday online activities compared to the rest of Internet users.

Writes one major player, “I use the internet for absolutely everything. My work, my finances, paying bills, homework, medical advice, weather, entertainment. Only thing I do not obtain online is groceries and I could do that if I wanted. I will even look at the computer if I want to know what time it is before I will look at a clock. I never turn on TV anymore or use a dictionary or encyclopedia or anything like that. I do read books but I buy them online.”

Who are the “major players”? As a group, the “major players” are more likely to be better educated; 49% are college graduates, compared to 30% of other Internet users, and also more affluent; 38% have family incomes over $75,000 per year, compared to 21% for the rest of Internet users. They are more likely to be Internet veterans, 65% have been online six years or more, compared to 42% of other Internet users. And they are better connected; 76% of major players have a broadband connection from home and/or work, compared to 41% of other Internet users.

How popular are Internet activities among major players compared to the rest of Internet users? First, among Internet users who do any given activity, more major players will do that activity online than the rest of Internet users. For example, among the most popular activities, 83% of major players have checked weather online compared to 62% of others; 68% have ordered tickets online compared to 49% of others; 73% have looked up telephone numbers, addresses or zip codes online, compared to 38% of others.

How heavily is the Internet favored among major players compared to traditional offline methods? Among major players, 95% look for maps and directions online, compared to 34% offline.6 Some 91% of major players communicate with others online, compared to 76% offline. And 83% of major players check the weather online, compared to 60% offline. Some 75% of major players check sports scores online, compared to 67% offline. Some 83% of major players get the news online, compared to 75% offline. And 68% of major players get tickets online compared to 62% offline.

The online Americans who say the Internet plays a major role in their daily life are more likely to do everyday activities online than others

How does this leaning toward the Internet of “major players” compare to the behavior of other Internet users? Major players differ from other Internet users because they are more likely to rely on the Internet to perform activities and chores than they are to rely on offline alternatives. Among Internet users in general, we noted only one case where people went to the Internet more than to the traditional offline way of doing things. That was in looking for maps and directions, where people were more likely to go online rather than look at physical maps or ask others. However, for major players, the online world is often preferable to the offline world for all kinds of activities.

One user writes how she wakes up to the Internet, “I am on the Internet before I am on my coffee pot.  Checking work email, headlines, and online banking.”

Among Internet users who do given activities, major players are much more likely to say they do that activity exclusively online than other Internet users. For example, 30% of major players who get news online will get their news exclusively online compared to 25% of others. And 69% will look for maps and directions exclusively online compared to 63% of the rest.

Finally, among Internet users who do an activity online, major players are more likely to do all those activities more frequently than the rest of Internet users. For example, for activities that people often do daily, major players are much more likely to do those online at least several times a week than the rest of Internet users. Some 69% of major players check weather online at least several times a week, compared to 47% of the rest. Some 81% of major players get news online several times a week, compared to 63% of others. Some 79% of major players communicate with others online at least several times a week, compared to 52% of others.

So, what do major players mean when they say the Internet plays a major role in their lives? These findings show it means that compared to the rest of Internet users, they do more activities online, do those activities more frequently online, choose to go online for those activities more often than they do them in the traditional offline way. This profile suggests that major players are integrating the Internet into their everyday lives in a richer, more complex way than the rest of Internet users.

“Oh heavens,” writes one major player, “I cannot survive without my internet. We use it for everything, searching school topics, looking up information about a broken motor on a truck, doing research when we are wanting to buy a car. I use it for work, for play, for education. It has replaced the phone, the mail, and the encyclopedias.”

Of those who said the Internet plays a major role in their everyday lives, 92% said that their lives would be affected if they couldn’t use the Internet at all tomorrow, 59% said it would affect their lives a lot, and 23% some, and 11% a little. Compared to the rest of the Internet users, where 51% say their lives would be affected if they couldn’t use the Internet tomorrow. This dramatic difference in users’ descriptions of how their lives would be changed without the Internet shows how much major players have embedded Internet use into their everyday lives.

One respondent reinforces this sentiment, “If the Internet would be gone tomorrow my entire world would be turned upside down. It would be like starting all over again!”

Broadband users appreciate the Internet in everyday life.

Internet users with fast connections go online to pursue their everyday activities in far greater numbers than users with dial-up connections. Those with fast connections both at home and at work are even more likely to turn to the Internet to perform an everyday activity. For example, among those who buy tickets to events, 74% of those with ubiquitous broadband connections will buy tickets online, compared to 62% of those with a broadband connection at home or at work, and 48% of those with only dial-up connections.

Broadband users engage in the everyday activities online more frequently than dial-up users. For example, 55% of those with broadband check weather online do it at least several times a week, compared to 51% of those with only dial-up connections; 76% of those with broadband who get the news online will do it at least several times a week, compared to 62% of those with only dial-up connections.

Broadband users do more everyday activities online than dial-up users

Significantly, 65% of those with broadband connections at work and home say the Internet plays a major role in their lives, compared to 40% of those who have broadband at work only, 28% of those who have broadband at home only, and 16% of those who only have dial-up connections. Likewise, when asked how much daily activities and routines would be affected if they couldn’t use the Internet tomorrow, 47% of those with broadband everywhere said “a lot”, compared to 32% of those with broadband only at work, 19% of those with broadband only at home, and 11% of those with dial-up connections.

More men use the Internet for everyday information gathering and entertainment more than women.

Men are more likely than women to perceive the Internet as a good way to do some things online. Some 78% of men think the Internet is a good place to go for transactions, compared to 71% of women. And 72% of men think it is a good place to go for personal entertainment, compared to 66% of women. Translating those perceptions of Internet usefulness into action, among those who do any given activity, men are a bit more likely to go online to do a few things, although they are primarily information-gathering activities and entertainment activities. Some 63% of men who check sports scores will do it online, compared to 40% of women. Some 72% of men who check the weather will do it online, compared to 65% of women. Some 65% of men who get news, will do it online, compared to 60% of women. Some 25% of men who schedule appointments will do it online, compared to 19% of women. And as for entertainment, 40% of men will pursue hobbies online compared to 27% of women; 24% of men will read for pleasure online, compared to 13% of women, and 25% of men will listen to music online, compared to 20% of women.

There are a few notable differences in how thoroughly men and women blend Internet use into daily routines. Among the activities they do online, men are more likely than women to do those online activities on a regular, frequent basis. Among activities people would be likely to do daily, men do them more frequently: 66% of men who check sports scores online do it at least several times a week, compared to 46% of women. Some 60% of men who check weather online, do it at least several times a week, compared to 50% of women. Some 79% of men who get news online do it at least several times a week, compared to 63% of women. Some 56% of men who schedule appointments online do it at least several times a week, compared to 49% of women. On the other hand, women show a slightly deeper engagement with Internet use for communicating with friends and family. Some 64% of women who communicate with friends and family online do it at least several times a week, compared to 59% of men, a finding consistent with past Pew Internet Project research about the importance among women of the Internet in interpersonal relations.

Young adult Internet users hold the highest opinion of the Internet’s value in their everyday lives.

The youngest group of adult users, those 18 – 29 years, stand out primarily for their attitude about the value of Internet use. A significantly larger number of younger users, 96%, declared the Internet a good way to get information, compared to 91% of all older users. They also think it is a good place to do transactions, 83%, compared to 72% of older users. And finally, they think the Internet is a good place to go for entertainment, 78% compared to 67% of older users. However, these attitudes don’t translate into any patterns of increased Internet use by the youngest users.

The oldest group, those over 65 years old, stands out in a different way. They are usually the most timid among Internet users. But in one area, communications among family and friends, they lead the pack. More older Internet users, 89%, think the Internet is a good place to go for social interactions or communications compared to 85% of younger users. Among  Internet users who communicate with friends and family, 87% of those 65 years and over will do it online, compared to 79% of those under 65 years. Of those who send cards and invitations, 58% of those over 65 years will do it online, compared to 52% of those under 65 years old.

  1. Since most Internet users will do activities both online and offline, the total of those who do an activity online and offline can be more than 100%.