As the Internet nears its 25th birthday, one thing is certain: Many Americans can’t live without it.
Not only is the Internet increasingly essential for more Americans, they see it as an extremely positive influence on their lives. According to the survey,nearly 90 percent of Internet users say the Internet has been a good thing for them personally, with only 6 percent saying the Internet has been a negative influence. And despite common anecdotes about nasty online commenters and Internet abuse, nearly 70 percent of users say they have been treated generously by others online.
“The rise of the Web — and more broadly, the Internet — has been one of the most remarkable stories of technology adoption in history,” says Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center Internet Project. “The vast majority of users believe these technologies have made things better for them and for society. They see problems, to be sure, but most have now brought technology so deeply into the rhythms of their lives that they say it would be very hard to give up.”
“Digital technologies have spread to every corner of the globe and most aspects of everyday life for users," said Rainie. But while it’s become easier (and more important) than ever for the majority of Americans to enjoy frequent connectivity, a significant sliver of the popular has been left behind.
“Looking back at the origins of the Web, we can see patterns of use and non-use that persist today,” says Susannah Fox, co-author of the Pew Research Center report. “A person’s level of education is still a primary factor in predicting whether she uses technology or not. And the younger someone is, the more likely it is that she uses technology. One constant is that users, whenever they start, say that digital communications tools strengthen their relationships.”
Age isn't the only major determinant of adoption: The explosion of Internet use in the past two decades is nothing short of astonishing, but the specter of social and economic inequality persist.
Adoption is highest among those Americans making more than $75,000 a year (99 percent), and college-educated citizens between the ages of 18-29 are by far the fastest and most fervent adopters.
By contrast, the less well-off segments of society aren’t able to enjoy the same positive benefits: only 77 percent of Americans earning below $30,000 a year regularly use computers in the U.S. Recent research on the “digital divide” published by Pew in November 2013 notes that, for millions of African-American and Hispanic citizens, smartphones serve as a common alternative to expensive broadband-connected personal computers as the primary way to use the Internet.