Study: Mobile Enthusiasts Tethered to the Internet

Wireless connectivity continues to seep into the every day lives of Americans, and a report released by Pew Internet & American Life Project, “The Mobile Difference,” identifies 10 unique groups of people by how they view their mobile and wireline connectivity.

Four in ten adults surveyed by Pew in December 2007 — about six months after the release of Apple’s popular iPhone — said their reliance on mobile devices for online access is increasing. And these same people are apparently increasing their use of Internet use on the home PC as well. “The digital content found on the mobile device may prompt more activity on their broadband-enabled big screen [computer] at home,” the study states.

Pew divides the 10 groups into two groups of five each. Those defined as “motivated by mobility” and those characterized as the “stationary media majority.”

Motivated by Mobility: 39 percent.

  • Digital collaborators, 8 percent. This group manages digital devices and information; creates and shares content with others and is enthusiastic about information and communication technology can be used.

  • Ambivalent networkers, 7 percent. Mobile devices are used throughout this group’s social lives for texting and social networking. Ambivalent networkers worry about connectivity and find mobile devices intrusive. Many take a break from online use.
  • Media movers, 7 percent. A wide range of mobile habits are part of media movers’ bag of tricks. They find or create information such as digital photos and share with friends. “These social exchanges are central to the group’s use of ICT,” the report said.
  • Roving nodes, 9 percent. People in this segment manage their work and social lives through mobile devices. They get the most out of basic applications such as e-mail, calendars, address books, and texting, and use these features to increase productivity.
  • Mobile newbies, 8 percent. While its members like their cell phones, the mobile newbies group rates low on its use of technology assets. Many of this cohort acquired a cell phone within the past year, but adapted to the device’s convenience and would be unlikely to give it up.

Stationary media majority: 61 percent.

  • Desktop veterans, 13 percent. This segment is typically comprised of older people who use a high-speed Internet connection and a desktop computer. They use the Internet to stay in touch with friends, and their cell phone and mobile applications are secondary.

  • Drifting surfers, 14 percent. This group is characterized by infrequent online users even though they may have broadband and a cell phone. Technology is used for basic information gathering and the Internet and cell phone could easily be given up.
  • Information encumbered, 10 percent. This describes people who suffer from information overload and like to take time off from the Internet. This group relies on old media for information.
  • The tech indifferent, 10 percent. Most people in this group have cell phones but don’t like their intrusiveness. They are not heavy users of the Internet.
  • Off the network, 14 percent. Fourteen percent of the adult population are without cell phones and online access. This segment tends to be older and low-income. Few have experience with (ICT) devices while others have given them up. As many as one in five used to have a cell phone.

The Pew study states that the bar has risen for the definition of high-tech. In earlier reports, Pew defined tech-oriented users as those who have broadband at home. Now, those on the cutting edge are those people with mobile connectivity.

Digital collaborators have the greatest handle on all forms of media. “Members of this group can almost always get access to the Internet, whether that is with an ‘always on’ broadband connection or with an ‘always present’ mobile device,” states the report. This group shares thoughts, creative content, and other activities with contacts and the Web at large. The report finds the Internet can be a camp, lab, or theater group for collaborators, and a place to gather with others.

While the motivated by mobility group is in the minority, it is growing. Between 2006 and 2007 the percent of people in this group who would find it difficult to live without their cell phones grew to 66 percent, a 20 percent increase. In the same time period the stationary media majority group 21 percent said they would find it difficult to live without their mobile, a 64 percent decrease.

The report is based on a December 2007 survey of 3,553 American adults and a longitudinal element to analysis by way of a callback survey of 1,499 respondents from an earlier 2006 typology survey.

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