The Web as a Way of Life

The Internet has infiltrated everyday life for most Americans, and has had a serious impact on major life decisions, a survey by The Pew Internet & American Life Project finds.

Internet users have come to rely on the vast amount of research and information content available, and often consult the Web before making dramatic life changing decisions. The survey showed that notable numbers of Americans turn to the Internet as a basic reference tool to gather information, and, in some cares, to compare alternative courses of action.

Pew’s findings come from a random telephone survey of 1,415 Internet users during January 2002 who were queried about 15 major events or decisions in the past two years. The results were based on the role the Internet played in making or dealing with what Pew categorized as “major life moments.”

More than 32 million Internet users chose a school or college in the past two years and 36 percent say the Internet was crucial to the selection. Another 32 percent placed minor importance on the Internet’s role, with minorities and younger Americans more likely to rely on the Internet for making decisions about schools.

Of the 34 million Internet users who recently started a new hobby, 33 percent said the Internet played an important role, with twice as many men than women reporting their reliance.

Additional education or career training was sought by 47 million people, of which 39 percent heavily depended on Internet research. Another 27 percent indicated that the Web played a minor role in their information gathering process. Women outdistanced the men in Web reliance, as did online veterans (those with more than three years of surfing time) over newbies.

When researching a new car, 27 percent of the 52 million auto shoppers expressed a crucial dependence on Internet information with another 22 percent citing minor reliance. Men and women car surfed equally, and one third of online veterans said that their research influenced their purchase.

The Internet’s vast health-related resources made it easier for the 45 million users who have helped another person deal with a major illness in the past two years. More than one-quarter (26 percent) indicated that the Web played an important role; 31 percent say the Web played a minor role. Many more women than men accessed online health information, which is an indication of their care-giving status.

Some 21 million people had an illness themselves, and of that group, 24 percent acknowledged the major role the Internet played in research.

Of the more than 32 million people who changed jobs in the past two years, 25 percent placed crucial importance on the role of the Web. Most job searchers were 18-29 year old minority college graduates with household incomes of more than $75,000.

The Internet has played a role for the 40 million who have made a major investment of financial decision in the past two years. Twenty-two percent cite it as a crucial role, while another 26 percent say it was a minor role. Men took to the ‘Net more than women on this one, and online veterans were five times more likely than newbies to have searched for this information.

Twenty-two percent of the 37 million house-hunters cited the Internet as a major aide, with those in households earning more than $75,000 among the most likely to use online methods.

Internet users also went online to look for love or break from love. Of the 15 million that started or ended a romantic relationship in the past two years, 15 percent say the Internet played a crucial role in the event. Of the 8 million people that tied the knot, 14 percent indicated the importance of the Internet. None of the respondents that got divorced reported that the Internet plated any role at all.

Nine million Internet users were involved in legal actions over the past two years and 13 percent say that online resources were crucial to helping them cope.

Thirteen percent of the 33 million workers that received a major promotion or raise in the last couple of years credit the Internet with a major role, and another 13 percent indicate a minor function. Experienced Web surfers stated that it was online information that helped propel them up the career ladder.

While Pew’s research has proven that the Internet is a tremendous resource for information and fact gathering, it could be a problem for a few. Two percent of those surveyed said that family members spend too much time online; 1 percent encountered major computer viruses; and another 1 percent confessed problems with pornography, gambling, and games, as well as ergonomic issues such as eyestrain and joint pain.

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