Cast a glance at any coffee shop, train station, or airport boarding gate, and it is easy to see that mobile access to the internet is taking root in our society. Open laptops or furrowed brows staring at palm-sized screens are evidence of how routinely information is exchanged on wireless networks. But the incidence of such activity is only one dimension of this phenomenon. Not everyone has the wherewithal to engage with “always present” connectivity and, while some may love it, others may only dip their toes in the wireless water and not go deeper. Until now, it has not been clear how mobile access interacts with traditional wireline online behavior. Does availability of mobile access crowd out desktop access? Does it draw some users further into digital lifestyles?
The role of mobile internet access in evolving digital lifestyles is the cornerstone of the second typology of information and communication technology (ICT) users developed by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. The typology places ICT users into 10 groups and, notwithstanding variation across the groups, the groups fit into two baskets, with the groups’ collective judgments on mobility being the pivot point.
Motivated by Mobility: Five groups in this typology – making up 39% of the adult population – have seen the frequency of their online use grow as their reliance on mobile devices has increased. For these groups, growth in frequency of online use is linked not only to increasing broadband adoption, but to positive and improving attitudes about how mobile access makes them more available to others. Across the groups, a lot of variation exists regarding what these changes mean to users. Some find this extra connectivity a platform for self expression. Others are not entirely positive about ICTs’ impacts on their lives.
Stationary media will do: The remaining 61% of the adult population does not feel the pull of mobility – or anything else – drawing them further into the digital world. Across the five groups that make up this part of the population, several have a lot of technology at hand and have seen their tech assets grow in recent years. Yet ICTs remain on the periphery in their lives, suggesting that some adult Americans reach a plateau in their technology use. Some groups are content with this distant relationship to technology. For others, even a little modern gadgetry is too much.
For 39% of the adult population, mobile and wireline access tools have a symbiotic relationship. Mobile users typically have ready access to high-speed connections at home, which likely pushes them toward deeper home high-speed use; the digital content found on the mobile device may prompt more activity on their broadband-enabled big screen at home. At the same time, the desktop internet experience migrates to “on the go” as the handheld becomes a complementary access point to connect with people and digital content wherever a wireless network reaches.
The five groups reliant on stationary media tools show no growth (or declines) in the frequency of online use even though more of them have broadband access. They show low levels of use of mobile applications and decidedly tepid attitudes about ICTs. In other words, 61% of the adult population have a settled disposition toward ICTs and – whether they experience information overload, difficulties in getting gadgets to function, or frustration when the cell phone rings – are not rapidly becoming more active users of ICTs.
Although the groups in the two baskets share common patterns with respect to mobile ICT uses, each group has a distinct disposition toward ICTs. Some are contentedly and deeply engaged with ICTs, others mainly use traditional applications on the wireline internet to carry out tasks, while some keep modern gadgetry and services at arm’s length.
As in the Project’s first typology, this year’s typology revolves around people’s relationships to ICTs in three areas:
Assets (the gadgets and services they have);
Actions (what they do with what they have); and,
Attitudes (what they think about how ICTs fit into their lives).
The second typology is based on a December 2007 survey of 3,553 American adults. The typology has a longitudinal element to the analysis, as it uses a callback survey of 1,499 respondents from our 2006 typology that has been integrated into the 2,054 newly-interviewed respondents in December 2007. Although the current typology, through the callback element, builds on the 2006 typology, the user groups we identify in this typology differ from the ones developed from the 2006 survey. That is, while some groups in this typology may bear some resemblance to ones from the 2006 typology, the 2007 groups do not map backwards to 2006 groups or represent how any 2006 group has evolved in the 20 months between surveys. The longitudinal data does, however, come into play in tracking people’s attitudes toward their ICTs over time.
The following table summarizes how the groups use ICTs and group members’ attitudes about them, and the Summary continues with more detailed sketches of the groups and a discussion of the report’s implications.