Three major technology revolutions have occurred during the period the Pew Research Center has been studying digital technology – and yet more are on the horizon.
First, the rise of the internet changed the way that people got information and shared it with each other, affecting everything from users’ basic social relationships to the way that they work, learn, and take care of themselves. The speed of internet connectivity picked up considerably with the rise of broadband connections. As people adopted those higher-speed, always-on connections, they became different internet users: They spent more time online, performed more activities, watched more video, and themselves become content creators.
Second, mobile connectivity through cell phones, and later smartphones and tablet computers, made any time-anywhere access to information a reality for the vast majority of Americans. Mobile devices have changed the way people think about how and when they can communicate and gather information by making just-in-time and real-time encounters possible. They have also affected the way people allocate their time and attention.
Third, the rise of social media and social networking has affected the way that people think about their friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. People have always have social networks of family and friends that helped them. The new reality is that as people create social networks in technology spaces, those networks are often bigger and more diverse than in the past. Social media allow people to plug into those networks more readily and more broadly – making them persistent and pervasive in ways that were unimaginable in the past. One of the major impacts was that the traditional boundaries between private and public, between home and work, between being a consumer of information and producer of it were blurred.