January 14, 1999

The Internet News Audience Goes Ordinary

Section V – Attitudes Toward the Internet and Technology

Despite the dramatic growth of the Internet in recent years and the proliferation of all-news cable television outlets, network news magazine shows and other information sources, the public is not feeling overloaded with information these days. Fully 62% of Americans say they like having so much information to choose from, compared to only 28% who say they feel overloaded. These numbers are virtually unchanged from 1995 when 64% liked all the options and 23% felt overloaded.

Older Americans are more likely than younger ones to feel the burden of so much information. But still a plurality (48%) of those over age 65 like all the information. People with less education are also slightly more likely to feel overloaded.

Online users who frequent the World Wide Web are among the most likely to appreciate the wealth of information available these days: 74% of them like it, vs. 63% of online users who don’t use the Web and only 56% of the non-online public.

For the most part, Americans like computers and technology: 61% say they like computers; only 6% dislike them and 26% have a mixed opinion. These views are virtually unchanged from the mid-1990s.

Again, age makes a difference in attitudes. Those under age 30 overwhelmingly like computers and technology (75%). Those between ages 30 and 50 offer a slightly more mixed view: 65% have a positive opinion of computers and technology, 29% a mixed view. Those over age 50 are less enthusiastic: 48% like computers; 26% hold a mixed view; but still only 10% say they dislike them.

Not surprisingly, computer users and particularly online users like technology a lot — 73% and 79%, respectively. Even a 51% majority of people who don’t use the Internet say they like technology and only about one-third offer a mixed view.

Privacy Concerns

In a general sense, Americans do worry that computers and technology are being used to invade their privacy. A narrow 54% majority express at least some degree of anxiety about this — 24% worry a lot, 30% worry some. Young people show the least concern about their privacy (only 17% worry a lot), those aged 50-64 the most (32% worry a lot). Seniors fall in between (24% worry a lot).

Women are more concerned about privacy than men. Overall, 57% of women worry at least some about their privacy being invaded vs. 51% of men. The gender gap is widest between young men and young women — 41% of men under age 30 worry at least some, compared to 57% of women in this age group. The gender gap for other age groups is much less pronounced.

Online users — who are in many ways the most exposed — are among the least concerned about their privacy. Only 16% of them worry a lot compared to 29% of those who don’t go online. Still half of this group expresses at least some concern that computers and technology are being used to invade their privacy.

When asked about specific threats to their privacy, Americans reveal less anxiety. They are modestly concerned about the security of their financial records — 42% worry at least some, 19% worry a lot. People who go online are no more concerned about this than those who don’t — 41% of Internet users worry at least some, 18% worry a lot.

The public is not overly worried about the threat of computer failures related to the Year 2000 (Y2K): 36% of the general public worries at least some about this, as do 41% of Internet users. Only 13% of each group worries a lot. Older Americans are less concerned about potential Y2K problems. People who are more knowledgeable about current events worry more than those who are less informed about the Y2K problem. Even among this well-informed group, however, only 10% worry a lot.

People worry even less about the confidentiality of their medical records. Only 28% of all Americans express at least some concern about this, as do 29% of online users.

Internet users express very little concern about intrusions into their privacy while online. Only 20% of Internet users worry that their email might be read by someone other than the party they sent it to; 42% say they do not worry about this at all. Similarly, only 21% of online users worry that someone might be able to trace what websites they have visited; 56% don’t worry about this at all. Online users are much more wary about getting computer viruses when they download information. Fully 42% worry about this.

Common Frustrations

Internet users express moderate frustration with various aspects of their online experience. Six-in-ten have been frustrated trying to find something on the Internet. A similar proportion (59%) have been frustrated with the speed of their Internet connection. A 56% majority expresses frustration with the speed of their Internet searches, and 45% are frustrated by unwanted junk email.

Women express greater frustration than men with trying to find things on the Internet (65% vs. 56%). Those who go online for work only are less frustrated with this aspect of the Internet than those who go online for a mixture of work and pleasure (48% vs. 65%).

College-educated men and those making over $75,000 a year are among those most irritated by the speed of their Internet connection. Young women express higher than average levels of frustration with the speed of their Internet searches (64% vs. 56% of all online users). This group also stands out as the most annoyed by junk email (53% vs. 45% of all online users).

In spite of these frustrations, most online users reject the notion that finding information on the Internet is so hard that it is usually not worth the time. Fully 77% disagree with this statement; only 21% agree. Women over age 50 who go online are the most likely to agree with the statement. However, even among this group, only 28% agree that it’s hard to find things on the Internet.

Parents and Kids

Overall, parents worry more about what their children might see on television than they do about what they might see on the Internet (35% vs. 23%); 17% say they don’t worry about either; 23% worry equally about both. Mothers worry about the Internet slightly more than fathers (26% vs. 20%).

Parents who are themselves online users worry more than average parents about what their kids might be exposed to online. They divide almost evenly between TV and the Internet (31%, 29%). Parents who go online from home — whose children presumably have access to the Internet — are no more concerned about what their kids might see online than are those who go online from work.

Moderate Support for Anti-Pornography Law

A 57% majority of Americans say they would favor a law making it illegal for a computer network to carry pornographic or adult material. Support for such a law is up slightly from 1995 when 52% were in favor.

Women favor anti-pornography legislation much more strongly than do men — 65% vs. 47%. There is also a sharp generation gap among men on this issue, with only 35% of men under age 30 favoring restrictions, compared to 57% of men over age 50. Women of all age groups favor the legislation.

Internet users are less supportive than the general public of a law that would eliminate pornography from the Internet — 51% favor such a law vs. 61% of non-users. The gender gap among online users on this issue is even sharper than the gap for the general public. Fully 62% of female online users favor a law to make online pornography illegal, compared to only 40% of men. College-educated men are among the least likely to support such a law (37%).

Internet users who have children express greater support for this type of regulation than do those who do not (55% vs. 48%). World Wide Web users are less supportive than online users who don’t use the Web (49% vs. 57%, respectively).