A new study released this week indicates that widespread access to communications technologies has led to widely varying uses of Web 2.0-type expressive and social networking activities. The study defines Web 2.0 as people expressing themselves online and participating in the "commons of cyberspace."
In general, the report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project classified about 31 percent of Web 2.0 participants as Elite Tech Users, meaning they often use these kinds of functions. Another 20 percent were classified as Middle-of-the-Road Tech Users, and 49 percent fall into a category called Few Tech Assets.
A full 85 percent of American adults use the Internet or cell phones, according to the new report titled "A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users." It sought to categorize users of information and communication technology (ICT) by the number of ICT devices they own, how they use them, and their attitudes about these devices.
The devices under study include desktop computers, laptops, digital cameras, video cameras, Webcams, iPods or other MP3 players, cell phones and PDA/smartphones. The sample size was 4,001 adults, aged 18 and older, and they were surveyed via phone interviews taken over two months in winter and spring of last year.
Eighty percent of Elites have high-speed Net access at home, which the Pew researchers noted is twice the national average. One group of Elite users, which the report calls Omnivores, has the most technology and uses it "voraciously" to express themselves and to engage in a wide variety of Web 2.0 activities like content-sharing and social networking. These most fully-actualized tech citizens were mostly men in their mid-to-late twenties.
Another seven percent among the Elites were labeled as Connectors, and they had "high levels of satisfaction" about using ICTs to connect with people, pursue hobbies and manage digital content. Lackluster Veterans, at 8%, frequently use the Internet but aren't as enthralled about cell phones. While they are also Elites, they "are not thrilled" about the connectivity and productivity that ICTs offer.
Productivity Enhancers, another eight percent, have a "strongly positive view" about how the technological tools allow them to keep up with others, do their jobs and learn new things, and they use the technologies frequently and happily.
'Middle-of-Roaders,' 'Few Tech Assets'
The Middle-of-the-Roaders include Mobile Centrics, who, at 10 percent, embrace their cell phones as their primary communication device. They use the Net infrequently, with 37 percent having high-speed home connections, and they do appreciate their the interconnectivity.
Another Middle-of-the-Road group was classified as Connected But Hassled. While many technology users could relate to this label, this group in particular is heavily invested in technology, with 80 percent having high-speed connections at home. But, they "find the connectivity intrusive and information something of a burden."
The final four groups, with 49 percent of all Americans, constitute the lower end of the spectrum called Few Tech Assets. One group is the Inexperienced Experimenters, who, at 8 percent, are late adopters and generally do not have high-speed Internet connections at home.
Another 15 percent constitute the Light But Satisfied group, who are content with the modest amount of technology in their lives, and the Indifferents, at 11 percent, who use their ICTs only intermittently, "find connectivity annoying," and wouldn't miss it if they had to give it up. And the final 15 percent, described as Off the Network, have neither cell phones nor Internet connections. They tend to be older adults and, while they may have digital cameras or computers, are generally happy with old media.
Dad the CIO, Mom the Help Desk
One key factor in analyzing levels of satisfaction with communications technology, noted Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio, is how much time people have in their lives. "To participate in YouTube" or similar kinds of Web 2.0 activities, she said, "you not only have to have certain equipment but the time to use it, and so it's largely a thing that younger people do."
John Horrigan, Pew's associate director, has been quoted as saying that, when he started the survey, he thought more devices would lead to more people embracing technology and generating Web 2.0 content, but he discovered tensions about technology within various groups.
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Research, said that the complexity of features and the numbers of devices and services, which might feed such tensions, could "eventually lead to a consumer backlash. Dad," he said, "doesn't want to always be the CIO at home and Mom doesn't want to continue as the Help Desk."