Americans can't live without the web – but social media is a different story

Browsing Internet

With its 25th birthday coming up in March, the internet is the most popular millennial in America.

New data from the Pew Research Internet Project illustrates America’s embrace of – and increasing reliance on – the internet since the 1990s. More than half of Americans (53%) admit they would find the internet “very hard” to give up, compared with 38% who thought so in 2006. When you compare those numbers to the measly 28% who feel this way about landline telephones, it shows a significant shift in preference toward different types of communication technologies.

What’s interesting about the chart above is that relatively few people (11%) feel like giving up social media would be difficult, even though a Pew study from last year showed that 42% of Americans access multiple social networking platforms. (One caveat: This is the first time Pew has asked Americans this particular question.)

But the survey also shows that Americans may still view participating in social media, accessing the internet and using email as entirely different experiences. That’s an interesting distinction, if not an entirely new one. For example, when people talk about “digital detoxing”, the internet as a means of consuming information isn’t on the receiving end of the vitriol – just the parts of it that serve as a means to communicate with others. But, paradoxically, communicating with others is what Americans appear to enjoy most about the internet.

Internet horror stories about trolling and abuse tend to make headlines, and often for good reason, but a large percentage of Americans mostly see the internet as a tool for good and a way to connect with loved ones. Seventy percent of internet users say they have been treated kindly by others online, while a quarter of people reported having experienced abuse. Women tend to experience more of the extremes, while people age 18-29 seem have seen it all, indicating a unique adaptability among younger Americans.

In other words, America, don’t believe all of the bad headlines you read about the internet ruining our lives, making us dumber and destroying our social relationships. We couldn’t live without it if we tried.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Katie Rogers in New York, for theguardian.com on Thursday 27th February 2014 21.20 Europe/London

Other takeaways:

  • Digital detox be damned! Sixty-seven percent of internet users say their online communication with family and friends strengthens their relationships, while only 18% say it generally weakens those relationships.
  • We don’t look up. Adult ownership of cell phones has risen from 53% in Pew’s first survey on this topic in 2000 to 90% now.
  • We think positive. Americans think that the internet has been positive for individuals (90%) and for society in general (76%).

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image: © ahans