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Americans Going Online…Explosive Growth, Uncertain Destinations Technology in the American Household Introduction and Summary The number of Americans going online to an information service or directly to the Internet has more than doubled in the past year, but most consumers are still feeling their way through cyberspace.
Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity. Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns.
The broader home computer market continues to expand and appears to be maturing. The PC is a regularly used, indispensable household appliance to one in three adults. On a typical day 24 million Americans use a home computer for some personal or work-related task.
Surprisingly, CD-ROM drives are now found on almost half of all home PCs, and are seen by consumers as a more essential feature than online services. The trend survey found the number of Americans subscribing to an online service swelling from 5 million in the winter of to nearly 12 million by June of this year.
More Capacity Than Usage The capability of Americans to go online from home grew much more quickly over the past 12 months than did subscriptions to online services.
Our findings indicate that currently 18 million homes have modem-equipped computers, compared to when 11 million households had such machines. Owing to the tremendous sales of modem-equipped computers recently, a great deal of online capacity stands unused — specifically, more than 8 million households containing modem-equipped computers.
These consumers represent a clear potential source for the continued rapid expansion of online usage. Most unused modems are on or Pentium machines. Among those who currently use their modems, the study detected a decided softness in attitudes toward online activities and a fragile pattern of use.
The frequency of online activity is also modest. Users of the three principal commercial services, America Online, Prodigy and CompuServe, were fairly similar in their frequency of usage. However, Prodigy and America Online are used more for pleasure and in the afternoon or evenings.
CompuServe and the direct Internet connections are used more for work and more often during the day. Subscribers to each of the commercial services were about equally satisfied with the service delivered.
But Americans who access the Internet directly are heavier online users and more satisfied than are those who use commercial services. They also consider online access much more indispensable than do those with commercial services. But the pattern of specific activities suggest that few online features are compelling to them.
However, relatively small percentages engage in other activities. There are few signs in the study that use of online services or the Internet is changing traditional consumption patterns for news or goods and other services. As found in past Times Mirror Center surveys, users of advanced information technology continue to be heavier news consumers than are demographically-comparable samples of non- users.
Similarly, commerce online is relatively modest. E-Mail Delivers In contrast, e-mail appears to be making a real impact on users. In a typical day, the average e-mail user sends three messages and receives five.
In that regard, e-mail is the only regular computer activity in which women engage as frequently as men. Online activities are closely associated with the substantial proportion of Americans who work at home. Although more Americans are telecommuting, growth in PC ownership is being fueled by consumers using PCs for personal reasons, not work related ones.
However, for the purposes of this table, we made projections based on all PC owners. These new owners are as likely to use their PCs for financial record-keeping as are long-time owners. But they perform less word processing and play games more often.
Patterns of usage and attitudes toward this feature indicate that CD-ROMs have been better received than online services. This new technology is used as much as word processing programs, and more often than financial record-keeping programs. Few Burdened By Technology On broader questions, the polling found that Americans continue to have positive feelings about high-tech in general.
Privacy concerns also continue, however. Online Politics In their social attitudes, online users differ from average Americans and they also are unlike people of similar demographic backgrounds who do not go online.
Online users are more tolerant people. They are more accepting of homosexuality. They are more in favor of free expression with regard to the kinds of books that should be allowed in public libraries and also to the presence of pornography on the Internet.
On other political dimensions, online users are much the same as non-users. For example, their views about government regulation of business and federal welfare for the needy were not much different from that of the public at large.Suggested Citation:"The Use of Information Technology in Research."National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine.
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