We (still) like the internet


By Adam C. EARNHEARDT

Special to The Vindicator

Americans have finally found something we (mostly) agree on.

The vast majority of internet users think it brings value to their lives.

That’s right, a full 88 percent of us perceive of the internet and technology as contributing positively to our lives, according to a recent study published by the Pew Research Center.

Those numbers are down a bit from four years ago when 90 percent said the internet has been “mostly a good thing” for them. Still it’s hard to ignore the positive feelings most of us have for the internet.

That’s good for businesses and community organizers who ponder the value in posting their information on websites and sharing other relevant online content.

That’s also good news for people whose job it is to develop websites, write web content, and make information easy to find online.

It’s not good news for the rest of society, at least not in the eyes of those surveyed for this study. While Americans generally agree the Internet has been good for us on an individual basis, some 70 percent think it’s been mostly a good thing for society. That percentage looks strong, but it’s down from 76 percent in 2014.

Slightly less surprising is our perception of the Internet based on age. Turns out that as we get older, we become a little more skeptical of the internet’s value.

“This shift in opinion regarding the ultimate social impact of the internet is particularly stark among older Americans, despite the fact that older adults have been especially rapid adopters of consumer technologies such as social media and smartphones in recent years,” wrote Pew researchers Aaron Smith and Kenneth Olmstead.

“Today 64 percent of online adults ages 65 and older say the internet has been a mostly good thing for society. That represents a 14-point decline from the 78 percent who said this in 2014.”

Okay, maybe not “stark”. After all, more than 6 in 10 in this older age group think the Internet is mostly a “good thing.”

The study pointed to two other positive issues concerning our perception of the Internet.

First, those who feel good about the Internet enjoy having information close at hand. We value the ability to use technology to help us find answers quickly and efficiently.

The second most valuable positive service is connecting to others. We value the way tech allows us to stay close to the people we care about.

“Most mentioned how the internet makes information much easier and faster to access,” Smith and Olmstead reported.

“Meanwhile, 23 percent of this group mentioned the ability to connect with other people, or the ways in which the internet helps them keep more closely in touch with friends and family.”

More than two decades since its birth, the internet is continuing to fulfill its promise of connecting us to the world and the people in it.

For more information on this and other Pew studies, visit www.pewinternet.org.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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