More Work, Less Play for American Internet Users

As more Americans become Internet veterans, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found Internet users are more efficient and serious with their online time.

According to the Pew study, Americans are making more online purchases and carrying out other financial transactions, as well as writing emails with more significant and intimate content. For its report, “Getting Serious Online,” the Pew Internet & American Life Project compared a group of Internet users’ online behavior between March 2000 and March 2001.

“The Internet has gone from novelty to utility for many Americans,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “They are beginning to take it for granted, but they can’t imagine life without it.”

The study gives some of the credit for this shift in online behavior to greater use of the Internet at work. In a separate survey in January 2002, Pew found that 55 million Americans now go online from work, up from 43 million who went online at work in March 2000. On a typical day, 36 percent of Americans with Internet access on the job were doing work-related research in March 2001, up from 25 percent a year earlier. Further, 44 percent of those who have Internet access at work say online tools improve their ability to do their jobs.

E-mail has become a common communications tool for sharing worries or seeking advice among Internet users, the study found. By March 2001, 51 million Americans had emailed family members for advice, up from 30 million in 2000 – a 70 percent increase in a year. Similarly, 51 million Americans said they had emailed a friend for advice, compared to 32 million Americans who had done this by March 2000. This pattern extends to emailing family members to express worries, with about 40 million American having done this in March 2001, compared to 25 million a year earlier.

“It’s easy to see how people take advantage of a growing network,” said John Horrigan, senior research specialist with the Pew Internet Project. “Each friend who gets Internet access and each grandmother who sends her first email builds the community of Internet users. The larger the community gets, the more likely it is that people will turn to email to share intimate and crucial communications.”

The share of Internet users who had bought products online grew from 47 percent of Internet users in March 2000 to 53 percent in March 2001. The proportion who had purchased travel services had grown from 34 percent to 42 percent. The number who had done banking online grew from 17 percent to 23 percent. And the percent of those who had participated in online auctions grew from 14 percent to 20 percent. People also expanded their range of online activities over the course of the year from an average of 11 to 14 different types of uses of the Internet.

Americans’ more serious approach to the Internet has been accompanied by evidence of increasing efficiency online and shifts in the allocation in time between online and offline activities. An average surfer spent 7 fewer minutes online during a typical day’s activity online in March 2001 than in March 2000.

Additional findings from the Pew study include:

  • 29 percent of Internet users who have bought something online said their Internet use has resulted in their spending less time shopping in stores.
  • 25 percent of Internet users said they spend less time watching television because of the Internet.
  • 14 percent of Internet users said their time online has decreased the time they spend reading newspapers.
  • 14 percent of Internet users said the Net increased the amount of time they spent working at home.
  • 10 percent say their use of the Internet increases the amount of time they spend at the office.

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