May 6, 2007

Sorting out information technology users

WASHINGTON, DC – Fully 85% of American adults use the internet or cell phones – and most use both. Many also have broadband connections, digital cameras and video game systems. Yet the proportion of adults who exploit the connectivity, the capacity for self expression, and the interactivity of modern information technology is a modest 8%.

Fully half of adults have a more distant or non-existent relationship to modern information technology. Some of this diffidence is driven by people’s concerns about information overload; some is related to people’s sense that their gadgets have more capacity than users can master; some is connected to people’s sense that things like blogging and creating home-brew videos for YouTube is not for them; and some is rooted in people’s inability to afford or their unwillingness to buy the gear that would bring them into the digital age.

These findings come from the Pew Internet Project’s typology of information and communication technology (ICT) users. The typology categorizes Americans based on the amount of ICTs they possess, how they use them, and their attitudes about the role of ICTs are in their lives. Ten separate groups emerge in the typology.

Some of the most interesting cohorts are composed of people who own and operate high-tech tools, but aren’t necessarily wild about the role that gadgets play in their lives.

“Two groups of technology users have a kind of ‘tech-gadget’ remorse,” noted John B. Horrigan, Associate Director at the Pew Internet Project and author of the report. “They have more than a fair share of digital appliances. But they aren’t all that satisfied with the flood of information or pervasive connectivity comes along with these communication goods and services.”

One of the groups – Lackluster Veterans who make up 8% of the adult population – contains long-time and frequent online users who don’t like the extra availability that comes with ICTs. The other group – the Connected but Hassled who comprise 10% of the population – expresses worries about information overload and doesn’t see ICTs helping their personal productivity.

At the same time, there are other groups that highly prize the things that information technologies do for them, even if they don’t adopt every new Web 2.0 application for creative expression that emerges or upgrade their gadgets every time a new feature comes on the market.

“Some of the earliest adopters of the internet and cell phones still love the things that drew them into this new universe a decade or more ago and they have happily evolved in their use since then,” Horrigan said. “They live their lives on email; can’t imagine life without a smart phone; download songs to their MP3 players; and howl at online amateur videos. They don’t necessarily have a blog or tag photos on a Flickr account, but they say it would be very hard to give up any of their digital goodies.”

He noted, too, that 8% of Americans, labeled Omnivores, constitute the group who are by any measure deeply involved with Web 2.0 activities, such as blogging, sharing creations online, or remixing digital content.

A Full Rundown of the Typology’s 10 Groups Four groups of information technology users occupy the elite end of the spectrum. Collectively, 80% of users in these four groups have high-speed internet at home, roughly twice the national average. They are (with each group’s share in the adult population in parentheses):

  • Omnivores (8%): They have the most information gadgets and services, which they use voraciously to participate in cyberspace, express themselves online, and do a range of Web 2.0 activities. Most in this group are men in their mid- to late twenties.
  • Connectors (7%): Between featured-packed cell phones and frequent online use, they connect to people and manage digital content using ICTs – with high levels of satisfaction about how ICTs let them work with community groups and pursue hobbies.
  • Lackluster Veterans (8%): They are frequent users of the internet and less avid about cell phones. They are not thrilled with ICT-enabled connectivity and don’t see them as tools for additional productivity. They were among the internet’s early adopters.
  • Productivity Enhancers (8%): They have strongly positive views about how technology lets them keep up with others, do their jobs, and learn new things. They are frequent and happy ICT users whose main focus is personal and professional communication.

Two groups make up the middle range of technology users:

  • Mobile Centrics (10%): They fully embrace the functionality of their cell phones. They use the internet, but not often, and like how ICTs connect them to others. 37% have high-speed internet connections at home. The group contains a large share of African Americans.
  • Connected But Hassled (10%): They have invested in a lot of technology (80% have broadband at home), but they find the connectivity intrusive and information something of a burden.

Some 49% of all Americans have relatively few technology assets, and they make up the final four groups of the typology. Just 14% of members of the first three groups listed below have broadband at home.

  • Inexperienced Experimenters (8%): They occasionally take advantage of interactivity, but if they had more experience and connectivity, they might do more with ICTs. They are late adopters of the internet. Few have high-speed connections at home.
  • Light But Satisfied (15%): They have some technology, but it does not play a central role in their daily lives. They are satisfied with what ICTs do for them. They like how information technology makes them more available to others and helps them learn new things.
  • Indifferents (11%): Despite having either cell phones or online access, these users use ICTs only intermittently and find connectivity annoying. Few would miss a beat if they had to give these things up.
  • Off the Network (15%): Those with neither cell phones nor internet connectivity tend to be older adults. A few of them have computers or digital cameras, but they are content with old media.

The data for the Project’s typology of ICT users was gathered through telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates between February 15 and April 6, 2006, among a sample of 4,001 adults, aged 18 and older. The sample has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan initiative of the Pew Research Center that produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care, and civic/political life. Support for the Pew Internet Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.