August 11, 2004

The Internet has an impact on Americans’ everyday lives, but traditional offline habits still dominate

The vast majority of American Internet users say the Internet plays a role in their daily routines and that the rhythm of their everyday lives would be affected if they could no longer go online. Yet, despite its great popularity and allure, the Internet still plays second fiddle to old-fashioned habits. Some of the key findings in a new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project:

  • 88% of online Americans say the Internet plays a role in their daily routines. Of those, one-third say it plays a major role, and two-thirds say it plays a minor role. The activities they identified as most significant are communicating with family and friends and finding a wealth of information at their fingertips.
  • 64% of Internet users say their daily routines and activities would be affected if they could no longer use the Internet.
  • 53% of Internet users say they do more of certain everyday activities simply because they can do them on the Internet. The most popular are communicating with family and friends and looking up information. Still, while nearly all Internet users go online to conduct some of their ordinary day-to-day activities online, most still default to the traditional offline ways of communicating, transacting affairs, getting information and entertaining themselves. For instance, they are more likely to do these things offline than online: get news, play games, pay bills, send cards, look up phone numbers and addresses, buy tickets, check sports scores, listen to music, schedule appointments, and communicate with friends. “In just a few years, the Internet has made a strong mark on everyday life,” says Deborah Fallows, senior research fellow at Pew Internet Project and the author of the report. “Yet, it is mostly the case that Internet users lean heavily toward the offline alternative for accomplishing the key tasks of their lives.” Of the 18 activities surveyed by the Pew Internet Project, online Americans will choose the real world alternative far more often than the virtual alternative for 17 of them. “It makes sense that people will toggle back and forth between the real and virtual worlds,” says Fallows. “They may buy tickets online for a new release movie, but they’ll save a few dollars on a less popular film by walking right up to the ticket window. What is significant is how much the traditional offline behavior overwhelms the online choice.” The single activity where Internet use outweighs the offline choice illustrates the value of two important Internet advantages: its efficiency and a virtually limitless database. A full 87% of Internet users look for maps or driving directions online, and they choose the online mode over offline mode in every measure taken. “Anyone who has used an application for finding driving directions online knows how superior that experience can be compared to the clumsy and time-consuming experience of finding and fumbling with maps,” says Fallows. The survey also shows there is a notable segment of Internet users for whom use of the Internet in everyday activities and communication is critically important. About 30% of Internet users say the Internet play a “major role” in their lives and many of them rely on the Internet more than offline sources to accomplish everyday tasks. These Internet enthusiasts are likely to be online veterans with more than six years of experience, to enjoy higher socioeconomic status, and to have broadband connections. One such enthusiast sums it up this way, “If the Internet would be gone tomorrow, my entire world would be turned upside down. It would be like starting all over again!” This study was conducted via random digit dial telephone polling of 2013 American adults, of whom 1,358 are Internet users, in November-December of 2003. The margin of error in the survey is three percentage points. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization fully funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to examine the social impact of the Internet on American life.