The Web at 25: Used by the Majority, with Some Reservations

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 11.07.59 AM

A substantial majority of Americans now use the Internet, according to new survey findings from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. But not all of them think the Internet is a good thing for society.

The Pew Research Center commissioned the survey as part of a broader effort to mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web, which Sir Tim Berners-Lee first described in a March 1989 paper; he released code for his project the following year. His ideas about networked architecture, of course, evolved into the Web as we know it today.

The Project found that 87 percent of American adults use the Internet, with that percentage increasing significantly along with income; roughly 68 percent of adults connect via mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.

While some 90 percent of survey-takers told the Project that the Internet had benefitted them personally, six percent said the impact on their lives had been negative, while 3 percent suggested that the Web had presented them with a mix of good and bad.

Those numbers adjusted somewhat when the questioners reframed the question: is the Internet good or bad for society as a whole? Some 76 percent of those surveyed said “good,” while 15 percent said “bad,” and 8 percent suggested a balance between the two.

There’s also little chance that most Americans would give up Internet access. “Among those Internet users who said it would be very hard to give up net access, most (61 percent of this group) said being online was essential for job-related or other reasons,” Pew noted. “Translated to the whole population, about four in ten adults (39 percent) feel they absolutely need to have Internet access.” Roughly 30 percent also said it would be difficult to give up access “because they simply enjoy being online.”

For its sample, the Project surveyed 1,006 adults (age 18 or older) over a three-day period (January 9-12, 2014). The final report also offers some interesting tidbits about how far the Internet’s come in the past twenty years or so; when the Pew Research Center interviewed Americans about the Internet in 1995, only 14 percent of adults had access, and 42 percent had never heard of the Internet. “An additional 21 percent were vague on the concept—they knew it had something to do with computers and that was about it,” the report noted. “Yet even then, 63 percent of people who used a computer at home said they would miss it ‘a lot’ if they no longer had one.”

How things change. Just because Internet connectivity has become near-ubiquitous in the United States, however, doesn’t mean everybody thinks it’s a good thing for society—or themselves.


Image: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project