October 16, 1995

Americans Going Online…Explosive Growth, Uncertain Destinations

Technology in the American Household

Introduction and Summary

The number of Americans going online to an information service or directly to the Internet has more than doubled in the past year, but most consumers are still feeling their way through cyberspace. Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity. Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns.

The broader home computer market continues to expand and appears to be maturing. The PC is a regularly used, indispensable household appliance to one in three adults. On a typical day 24 million Americans use a home computer for some personal or work-related task. Moreover, a “new wave” of demographically distinct consumers are being drawn into the market as home computers become more affordable. Surprisingly, CD-ROM drives are now found on almost half of all home PCs, and are seen by consumers as a more essential feature than online services.

These are the principal findings of the Times Mirror Center’s second annual study of the way new information technology is being used by American consumers. The trend survey found the number of Americans subscribing to an online service swelling from 5 million in the winter of 1994 to nearly 12 million by June of this year. This year’s survey, conducted among a national sample of 4005 respondents, also found that 2 million Americans connect to the Internet directly without benefit of a commercial service.

More Capacity Than Usage

The capability of Americans to go online from home grew much more quickly over the past 12 months than did subscriptions to online services. Our findings indicate that currently 18 million homes have modem-equipped computers, compared to 1994 when 11 million households had such machines. Owing to the tremendous sales of modem-equipped computers recently, a great deal of online capacity stands unused — specifically, more than 8 million households containing modem-equipped computers. These consumers represent a clear potential source for the continued rapid expansion of online usage. Most unused modems are on 486 or Pentium machines.

Among those who currently use their modems, the study detected a decided softness in attitudes toward online activities and a fragile pattern of use. Only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it “a lot” if no longer available. This compares to nearly twice as many computer users (63%), newspaper readers (58%) and cable TV subscribers (54%) who would say the same about these services. The frequency of online activity is also modest. Just 20% of online users go online every day.

Users of the three principal commercial services, America Online, Prodigy and CompuServe, were fairly similar in their frequency of usage. However, Prodigy and America Online are used more for pleasure and in the afternoon or evenings. CompuServe and the direct Internet connections are used more for work and more often during the day. Subscribers to each of the commercial services were about equally satisfied with the service delivered. But Americans who access the Internet directly are heavier online users and more satisfied than are those who use commercial services. They also consider online access much more indispensable than do those with commercial services. Fully 18% of commercial subscribers are signed on to more than one service, which is another measure of the unsettled state of the online world.

Online Numbers

 

                         Millions of Households

Has modem-equipped computer        18

     But modem unused               8

                         Millions of Americans

Ever Go:

Online from home                   14

Online from work or school,

not home                           11

Online to commercial service

or Internet                        12

     Subscribes to more than

     one service                    3

Regular* E-MAIL user               12

Regular* Online news reader         7

Connects to office or school        5

Navigates World Wide Web            5

*Regular refers to respondents who said they engage

in the activity either "daily", "3-5 times a week,"

or "1-2 days per week."

 

Typically, users go online a few times a week. But the pattern of specific activities suggest that few online features are compelling to them. A majority (53%) send or receive e-mail at least once a week, and many (41%) perform work-related research or communication online. However, relatively small percentages engage in other activities. Just 30% get the news online once a week or more often. Smaller percentages participate in discussion groups (23%), obtain entertainment related (19%) or financial information (14%).

Few Navigate the WWW

The two year old World Wide Web (WWW), which offers a whole new dimension of the Internet is still unchartered waters to most users. Only one in five of all online users (3% of Americans) have ever signed onto the Web. But among online users who have higher speed modems (14,400 baud or higher), use of the Web is far more common (53%). The most common ways that Americans get on to the WWW are through work connections (34%) or online services (33%), and “surfing” is the most popular way of discovering new sites (49%).

There are few signs in the study that use of online services or the Internet is changing traditional consumption patterns for news or goods and other services. Only 4% of all Americans are getting the news online at least once a week, and the overwhelming proportion of them (87%) said this activity has not affected their reliance on traditional news sources. As found in past Times Mirror Center surveys, users of advanced information technology continue to be heavier news consumers than are demographically-comparable samples of non- users. Similarly, commerce online is relatively modest. Only 8% of users have purchased anything via online capabilities within the month prior to the survey.

E-Mail Delivers

In contrast, e-mail appears to be making a real impact on users. Most e-mail users check their e-mail either once a day (29%), or more than once a day (22%). In a typical day, the average e-mail user sends three messages and receives five. One in four e-mail users are members of “listservs” (or electronic mailing lists), and a majority of those participate in more than one listserv. E-mail is sent or received as often for personal reasons (68%) as for work-related reasons (69%).

More than two-thirds of those who use e-mail at work (69%) said it fosters greater communication between upper and lower echelons in an organization. Over one-third (36%) believed it also results in franker communications between bosses and their workers. As many as six in ten who use e-mail for personal reasons said they communicate more often with family and friends because of e-mail (59%). Women reported increased exchanges of this kind more often than men (65% to 56%). In that regard, e-mail is the only regular computer activity in which women engage as frequently as men.

Online activities are closely associated with the substantial proportion of Americans who work at home. Most employed online users (53%) had worked at home at least one day of the week preceding the survey, and fully 20% had worked at home at least one day of the prior week instead of “going in” to work. In comparison, 33% of all employed respondents in the survey had worked at home at least one day of the pre-survey week, and 13% had worked at home at least one day rather than at their regular workplace.

A New Wave of Technology Users

In 1994, the Times Mirror Center estimated that 31% of all American households contained a computer and that 26% of all adults used a home computer at least once in a while. The current poll finds computers in 36% of all households and 32% using a PC. Although more Americans are telecommuting, growth in PC ownership is being fueled by consumers using PCs for personal reasons, not work related ones. Specifically, the frequency of PC use at home for personal reasons rose from 21% to 29%, while use for work or school-related purposes was little changed in the past year.

HOME BASED COMPUTERS*

 

                         Millions of Households

Has one or more                    32

     Has one only                  24

     Has more than one              9

Acquired in past 24 months         11

Acquired earlier                   22

Has one or more desktops           31

Has one or more laptops             6

Primary Computer:

Mac                                 5

IBM                                24

Other                               3

Computer Chip:

Pentium                             1

486                                 9

386                                 6

Less than 386                       2

Has CD-ROM                         15

*The questions for this table were only asked of

those who ever use their home PC (4% of PC owners

do not use their PC.) However, for the purposes

of this table, we made projections based on all PC owners.

More than one in three of the computers used in American households has been acquired within the past two years and as many as 15% were bought within the past twelve months. Although computers remain appliances of the well educated and the affluent, “new wave” owners (acquired PC within the last two years) are more likely to be middle income, not as highly educated, and younger than those who purchased them more than two years earlier. These new owners are as likely to use their PCs for financial record-keeping as are long-time owners. But they perform less word processing and play games more often. Fewer “new wave” owners use online services, but a greater percentage have CD-ROM drives.

CD-ROMs Catch On

CD-ROMs have achieved significant penetration among home users. The survey found that nearly half of all computer users surveyed (48%) had a CD-ROM drive. Patterns of usage and attitudes toward this feature indicate that CD-ROMs have been better received than online services. Most CD-ROM users (46%) said they were using their drive at least as often as they expected. And compared to online services, a somewhat greater percentage said they would miss their CD-ROM drives “a lot” if no longer available (40% vs 32%). Fully 52% said they use their drive at least once a week, and more than one in four (28%) reported using it more often. This new technology is used as much as word processing programs, and more often than financial record-keeping programs.

Few Burdened By Technology

On broader questions, the polling found that Americans continue to have positive feelings about high-tech in general. As in last years’s survey, two out of three respondents said they like computers and technology. Very few voiced dislike (4%), although almost one in four (24%) had mixed feelings, and a similar number said they felt “overloaded with information” (23%). Most (64%) said they liked having all of the television news shows, magazines, newspapers, and computer information services that are available these days.

Privacy concerns also continue, however. Half of the public worries either a lot (20%) or some (30%) that computers are being used to invade their privacy. But those Americans who have the most experience with high-tech today, the online users, are less worried about computers invading their privacy than are non-users (44% vs. 51%).

Online Politics

In their social attitudes, online users differ from average Americans and they also are unlike people of similar demographic backgrounds who do not go online. Online users are more tolerant people. They are more accepting of homosexuality. They are more in favor of free expression with regard to the kinds of books that should be allowed in public libraries and also to the presence of pornography on the Internet.

On other political dimensions, online users are much the same as non-users. For example, their views about government regulation of business and federal welfare for the needy were not much different from that of the public at large. They are more supportive of government regulation of business, but they hold the same views as non-users about social welfare. Users and non-users were essentially indistinguishable in terms of political party identification.

However, the survey did find one element of the online population that differed from the norm. Those who access the Internet directly are somewhat more likely than commercial service users and the public at large to “understand the frustrations and anger” that may have led to the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building (20% vs. 14%). Greater “understanding” about the motives was also found among those who participate in online discussions about politics.

Other Findings

Most Americans (54%) now use a computer either at home, at work or at school. The public favors laws to bar pornography from the Internet, 52% to 41%.

Nine percent of American households have given up on computers. They no longer own one.

Eighteen percent of PC users own a laptop. Among online users who own a laptop, 29% sometimes go online while traveling.

Nearly one-half of modem owners (47%) don’t know the baud rate of their units.

Eleven percent of home computer owners go online from a “computer room” within their home. But the most popular rooms for cyberspace departure are home office or study (32%) and living room or den (25%).

More than one in four (28%) have had online sessions that lasted as long as three hours or more.

Almost one in four online users (23%) have an “online buddy” they have never met in person.

More than one-third (35%) of online users have received an electronic news clipping or story from a friend.

Six percent of Americans have a satellite dish, up from 4% last year. Nearly one-in- three (2% of all) has a small disk satellite dish.

The Use of Household Information Technologies By Major Demographic Groups

Percentage Based on Total Respondents

 

               ------At Home------ Subscribes   Regular

               Computer  Has       To any Online       E-Mail    Used

               User      CD-ROM    Info. Service       User WWW

Total           32        15             6                 7       3

Sex:

  Male         38        18              9                 9       4

  Female       28        13              4                 6       2

Race:

  White        33        16              7                 7       3

  Black        20         8              3                 5       1

  Hispanic     29        12              8                 8       1

Age:

  18-29        38        18              9                12       6

  30-49        41        20              9                 9       3

  50-64        26        12              4                 6       1

  65+           9         4              1                 *       *

Age By Gender:

  18-29

     Male      41        20             14                14       8

     Female    36        16              5                 8       4

  30-49

     Male      44        22             10                 9       5

     Female    38        18              7                 7       2

  50+

     Male      25        10              5                 5       2

     Female    13         6              1                 2       0

Education:

  College+     57        28             15                16       8

  Some College 44        19              8                 9       3

  H.S. Grad    23        10              3                 4       1

< H.S.       11         6              2                 1       *

Family Income:

  $50K+        57        29             14                13       5

  $30-49K      37        18              6                 7       4

  $20-29K      23         9              4                 5       2

< $20K       12         4              1                 2       1

Children

  Kids in Home 42        21              7                 8       3

  No Kids      26        12              6                 7       3

Employment:

  Employed     38        18              9                10       4

  Unemployed   19        10              2                 2       1

  In School    53        24             13                17       7

  Worked at 

    home*      53        26             14                15       5

  Home based

   business    53        25             12                 9       3

Region:

  East         32        17              7                 8       2

  Midwest      28        15              5                 6       2

  South        28        12              6                 7       3

  West         42        19              9                 9       5

City Size

  City         32        16              7                 8       4

  Small town   26        12              5                 5       1

  Suburbs      47        22             10                11       4

  Rural        28        14              5                 6       2

Other Technology:

  Has Satellite 

     dish      30        16              7                 8       5

  Has cellular 

     phone     52        28             12                11       4

  Subscribes to

    cable TV   35        17              7                 8       3

*Respondent worked at home at least one day last week.

 

Cite this publication: “Americans Going Online…Explosive Growth, Uncertain Destinations.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 16, 1995) http://www.people-press.org/1995/10/16/americans-going-online-explosive-growth-uncertain-destinations/, accessed on July 22, 2014.