May 6, 2007

A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users

Overview

The advent of Web 2.0 – the ability of people to use a range of information and communication technology as a platform to express themselves online and participate in the commons of cyberspace – is often heralded as the next phase of the information society. Yet little is known about which segments of the population are inclined to make robust use of information technology and which aren’t.

With that in mind, the Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a survey designed to classify Americans into different groups of technology users. We developed our typology along three dimensions of people’s relationship to information and communications technology (ICT): 

  •  Assets: We asked people about their use of the internet, cell phones and other devices that connect to the internet (e.g., video or digital cameras). We also asked about their use of services that facilitate digital consumption, participation, and electronic communication (e.g., broadband and non-voice applications on cell phones).
  • Actions: We asked about activities in which people engage, such as downloading audio and video, generating their own online content, and a variety of things they do with their cell phones and computers. We also asked about frequency of online use.
  • Attitudes: We asked how people see ICTs helping them to be more productive at work, to pursue hobbies, and to keep up with family and friends; we also solicited their views about information overload and technology’s capacity to offer more control over their lives.

Our typology identifies a rich variety of Web 2.0 users and non-users. At one end of the spectrum, the survey identifies the heaviest consumers, most active users, and happiest denizens of the information society. It also locates those who find great satisfaction in the use of ICT even though they have fewer network resources.  In the middle range, the typology highlights some users who have invested a lot in services and hardware, but feel uncomfortable with the extra connectivity. And at the other end of the spectrum, it identifies those who get along – many of them just fine – with a relative scarcity of information goods and services.

Americans sort into 10 distinct groups of users of information and communication technology.

The ten groups that emerge in the typology fit broadly into a “high end,” “medium users,” and “low-level adopters” framework. However, the groups within each broad category have their own particular characteristics, attitudes and usage patterns. 

  • The elite users of ICTs consist of four groups that have the most information technology, are heavy and frequent users of the internet and cell phones and, to varying degrees, are engaged with user-generated content. Members of these groups have generally high levels of satisfaction about the role of ICTs in their lives, but the groups differ on whether the extra availability is a good thing or not.
  • The middle-of-the-road users consist of two groups whose outlook toward information technology is task-oriented. They use ICTs for communication more than they use it for self-expression. One group finds this pattern of information technology use satisfying and beneficial, while the other finds it burdensome.
  • For those with few technology assets (four groups), modern gadgetry is at or near the periphery of their daily lives. Some find it useful, others don’t, and others simply stick to the plain old telephone and television.

Typology summary

Tables with full details of the assets, actions and attitudes of each group and the demographic breakdown of each group appear in tables in the Appendix starting on page 40 of the main report.

Omnivores: 8% of American adults constitute the most active participants in the information society, consuming information goods and services at a high rate and using them as a platform for participation and self-expression.

Members of this group use their extensive suite of technology tools to do an enormous range of things online, on the go, and with their cell phones. With their deep and varied tech appetites, they are called the Omnivores. You might see them watching video on an iPod. They might talk about their video games or their participation in virtual worlds the way their parents talked about their favorite TV episode a generation ago. Much of this chatter will take place via instant messages, texting on a cell phone, or on personal blogs.

Omnivores are Web 2.0 devotees. They are highly engaged with video online and digital content. Between blogging, maintaining their Web pages, remixing digital content, or posting their creations to their websites, they are creative participants in cyberspace. When the next popular user-generated fashion comes along, Omnivores are likely to test-drive it. One might even invent it. 

Members of this group are confident in their ability to manage the flow of electronic information that is all around them. Indeed, ICTs are at the center of how they connect to their friends and express themselves to the world around them. Most Omnivores are in their twenties and nearly all have high-speed connections available at home or work.

The Connectors: 7% of the adult population surround themselves with technology and use it to connect with people and digital content. They get a lot out of their mobile devices and participate actively in online life.

The typical member of the Connectors group first went online about nine years ago. They were part of the big wave of internet adoption in the late 1990s adoption. This mostly female group of thirtysomethings is heavily reliant on the cell phone; they especially like the way the cell phone and other information technologies make them more available to others. They often use the wireless networks to go online.

The Connectors’ collection of information technology is used for a mix of one-to-one and one-to-many communication. They very much like how ICTs keep them in touch with family and friends, but they are also twice as likely as the average to blog or have a Web page. They like how ICTs let them work in community groups to which they belong, and overall they find their information gadgets a boon to personal productivity.

It is possible that Connectors would do more with user-generated content if they had more technological self-confidence. They suspect their gadgets could do more for them, and some say they need help in getting new technology to function properly.

Lackluster Veterans: 8% of American adults make up a group who are not at all passionate about their abundance of modern ICTs. Few like the intrusiveness their gadgets add to their lives and not many see ICTs adding to their personal productivity.

For Lackluster Veterans, the thrill of information technology is gone – if it was ever there to begin with. And they have had ample time to come to this conclusion. The members of this fortyish group of mostly men came online in the mid-1990s, and they have acquired the laptop computer and broadband connection along the way to becoming frequent users of the internet.

But their habits of connectivity seem to have the weight of necessity more than a full-hearted embrace of information technology’s affordances. Only a few Lackluster Veterans like how information technology makes them more available to others, and not many think it adds to their personal productivity. Doing without email or a cell phone would be hard for only some of these men. All in all, Lackluster Veterans seem content with surfing the Web or emailing family and friends, but they do not show great inclination to stretch their technology habits to self-expression or mobile media.

Productivity Enhancers: 8% of American adults happily get a lot of things done with information technology, both at home and at work.

Productivity Enhancers see information technology as a way to give them an edge in their professional and personal lives. They are frequent users of the internet – especially at work – and they link use of their extensive suite of information devices to personal productivity and workplace effectiveness. It is not all about carrying out tasks for this group, as they greatly value how ICTs help them stay in touch with family and friends and learn new things.

Perhaps because Productivity Enhancers are in very busy stages of their lives – in their early 40s, many with kids, nearly all with jobs – they may not have time to participate in many online content creation activities or to try leading edge applications. The blogosphere is generally on the periphery of this group’s habits and it is very unlikely you will find Productivity Enhancers watching a “24” short clip on their cell phone or laptop.

Mobile Centrics: 10% of the general population are strongly attached to their cell phones and take advantage of a range of mobile applications.

This group, whose typical member is in his mid-thirties, has been online for a relatively short amount of time, just more than half as long as prior groups. Although most use the internet and many focus on its entertainment dimensions, Mobile Centrics are much more wedded to their cell phones.

Mobile Centrics have cell phones that are jam-packed with functionality — such as video capability and games — and they are very likely to use their cell phones for texting. Information technology, for this group, is an avenue for staying in touch with others and adding to their “old media” entertainment experiences.  They are among the heaviest users of cell phones for most of their phone calling.

Although they like how technology connects them to others, Mobile Centrics generally do not associate information technology with greater efficacy in their lives. They do not see ICTs as giving them any more control over their lives, nor do they link ICTs with greater levels of personal productivity. The group includes a high share of African-Americans.

Connected but Hassled: 9% of American adults fit into this group. They have invested in a lot of technology, but the connectivity is a hassle for them.

The Connected but Hassled bought a ticket to the information revolution a bit later (around 1999) than members of more tech-oriented groups such as the Connectors or Productivity Enhancers. The ride must have seemed interesting enough so that members of this group kept buying more tickets, such as cell phones, home high-speed connections, and digital cameras.

For whatever reason, however, the Connected but Hassled do not much appreciate the information and communications assets they have acquired. Many of them say they suffer from information overload, and very few find the extra availability ICTs offer to be a good thing. The typical member of this female-dominated group is in her late forties and not many would miss it if they had to without the internet, email, or their cell phone.

Inexperienced Experimenters: 8% of adults have less ICT on hand than others. They feel competent in dealing with technology, and might do more with it if they had more.

This group, 8% of the population, comes in below average in internet and cell phone adoption. They have reliable, if not ardent, online surfing habits. Although Inexperienced Experimenters do not exhibit strong tendencies to try out the participatory Web, about one in five has posted a comment to a web site, shared a comment somewhere online, or one of the other activities pertaining to user-generated content. Some will even share a digital photo over email or download music.

The willingness among some Inexperienced Experimenters to try new things online goes along with their openness to technology. Most like it that technology makes them more available to others, and most believe ICTs make them more productive in carrying out everyday tasks. An Inexperienced Experimenter is likely to be a woman and entering her fifties; she is likely to have been online for a relatively short amount of time – about five years – and to have an income just above the average.

Light but Satisfied: 15% of adults have the basics of information technology, use it infrequently and it does not register as an important part of their lives.

This group came to the internet late. The typical online user in this group has been online for five years, even though she is in her mid-fifties. Light but Satisfied users do not go online everyday, simply because technology is at the outer edge of how they manage their lives. The vast majority has cell phones, but their phones are not feature-rich. They rarely use their cell phones for text messaging.

Some Light but Satisfied users consider ICTs a good thing for social and informational purposes, but they aren’t especially pleased that their gadgets make them more available to others. They say they would not find it too hard to do without their internet connections. Whereas most tech-oriented groups could sooner do without their landline phone than their cell phones, the reverse is true for Satisfied but Light users.

Indifferents: 11% of adults have a fair amount of technology on hand, but it does not play a central role in their daily lives.

Although everyone in this group has a cell phone or internet access, they are least likely to be users of both technologies. Even among those who have access, this group of Indifferents does not often use the internet and it sticks to the basics on cell phones that have comparatively little functionality. Their low rate of home broadband access is no doubt a barrier to active use of the internet.

Technology is closer to the periphery of their lives than is the case for Satisfied but Light users. Few Indifferents link information technology to enhancing personal productivity, pursuing hobbies, or sharing their ideas with others. This group of mostly men in their late forties just does not see ICTs making much of a difference for them.

Off the Net: 15% of the population, mainly older Americans, is off the modern information network.

Some 15% of Americans have neither a cell phone nor internet access. They tend to be in their mid-60s, nearly three-fifths are women, and they have low levels of income and education. Although a few have computers or digital cameras, these items seem to be about moving digital information within the household – for example, using the computer to display digital photos that they take or others physically bring into the house.