August 11, 2004

The Internet and Daily Life

Part 5. Conclusions

The Internet’s toehold in everyday life is just beginning.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project findings here suggest that the reach of Internet use into everyday life is broad but shallow. That is, while many users go online to do many things,  the extent of their use is relatively limited. Most Internet users will more often resort to traditional offline ways of accomplishing their tasks or entertaining themselves. Nonetheless, a number of findings suggest that in the future, the Internet may integrate itself more deeply into everyday life.

First, the Pew Internet Project has seen in past work that the most experienced users generally represent the first wave among many who will follow. In this study, these experienced users are more likely than newer users to more thoroughly and richly integrate the Internet into their everyday activities. Experienced users will do more of these activities online. And they are more likely to choose to do given activities on the Internet over the traditional offline ways. We guess that others will follow suit as they become more experienced.

Further, we see that once people do try online activities, they show signs of becoming committed to doing that online activity regularly and predictably. That is not to say they use the Internet more than the traditional offline ways of accomplishing things, but they do return to the Internet in a habitual way.

And finally, users consistently hold a very high opinion of the Internet as a way to do everyday activities. But as yet, they don’t fully act on those convictions. Most Internet users think the Internet is good for doing everyday activities, but fewer of them actually go to the Internet to do these things. Since there are still many obstacles between people and their Internet use – getting to a computer, getting a connection, conquering technical skills, building trust, and many more – it is likely that as obstacles wear down, more people will act on what they believe and use the Internet more in their daily lives.

Some users report that the Internet is changing the way they live.

The Internet indeed shows signs of changing some fundamentals of the way Americans do things in their everyday lives. Here, Internet users identified three ways the Internet had most significantly improved their everyday lives: It brings them more information, improves social contacts, and helps them act more efficiently.

The Internet has made users better informed, bringing a lot more news and information into their lives. Describes one, “My home page acts like a newspaper to me, and I check it often throughout the day. I am definitely more “plugged in” to world, regional and local events via the net, and can do this a LOT more effectively than reading newspapers and magazines, or watching TV.”

The Internet has made users more connected to more people, as they can keep in better and more frequent touch with more family and friends, be they old friends or new ones made on the Internet.

And finally, the Internet has made them more efficient: They say they can do lots of things when and where they want to.

It seems likely that as the Internet becomes more ingrained in our daily lives, these and other positive changes will become more defined and dramatic. As a whole, these findings suggest that the Internet is not largely driving the engines of everyday life, but it is making some of them more powerful and helping them run more smoothly.