February 15, 2006

Web Surfing for Fun Becomes a Staple of Internet Life

Washington — More Americans are turning to the internet as a place to hang out. Nearly a third of internet users go online on a typical day for no particular reason, just for fun or to pass the time. A new report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that surfing the Web just for fun is now one of the most popular activities internet users do online. Among the dozens of activities that are tracked on an average day by the Pew Internet Project, the act of surfing for fun trails only the more purposeful activities of doing their email and using search engines, and lies in a virtual dead heat with reading the news. Two-thirds of all internet users have tried surfing the Web, and in a survey conducted in December 2005, nearly half of those, some 40 million people, said they were surfing for fun on a typical day during the month. This number is up from 25 million people who were browsing for no particular reason in November 2004, the most recent time when this question was asked by the Pew Internet Project. According to the December survey, on a typical day, Web surfers were more likely to be young, to be male, and to have broadband connections:

  • 34% of online men were surfing for fun on an average day in December, compared with 26% of women.
  • 37% of internet users between ages 18 – 29 were browsing for fun on an average day; 31% of those ages 30 – 49; 24% of those over age 50.
  • 39% of home broadband users were browsing for fun on a typical day, compared with 23% of dial up users. Broadband access and an ever-growing volume of Web content make the internet a tempting go-to place, and they are likely drivers behind this changing Web surfing habit. People can break up their workday by snacking on the internet at their desktops. Or they can kill a little waiting time by browsing the Web through their cell phones. Or they can fill a lazy few hours just going online to see what’s up. “This tells us the internet is another place where people increasingly go to while away their time or just to hang out,” said Deborah Fallows, senior research fellow at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “The online world is becoming a destination in and of itself – and that has potentially big consequences for the way people spend their time.” The results reported here come from a survey of 3,011 American adults conducted between November 29-December 31, 2005. In the sample, 1,931 respondents were internet users. The margin of error on that internet-user population is plus or minus 2 percentage points. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization that is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to examine the social impact of the internet.