High Technology and Daily Life
Chapter 9: High Technology and Daily Life
Since the early 1980s high technology (high tech) has crept into every aspect of American life and has become in some instances as mundane as running water or refrigeration. Many Americans think nothing of going online to check the weather, purchase movie tickets, watch videos, or read up on their favorite hobbies. The Internet also contains an endless list of resources that most people would never have room for on their bookshelf but now take for granted nonetheless, including maps, dictionaries, phone books, and even manuals on most products. The Internet has become a great way to communicate with others as well, and millions have used it to make a date, schedule appointments, or find old friends.
In Internet: The Mainstreaming of Online Life (2005, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/Internet_Status_2005.pdf), Lee Rainie et al. of the Pew Internet & American Life Project (Pew/Internet) estimate that seventy million Americans were online each day in 2004, up 35% from fifty-two million just four years earlier. Online participation in a range of activities grew as well between 2000 and 2004, including looking for political news or information, which increased 167%, from nine million per day to twenty-four million; checking the weather, up 79%, from fourteen million per day to twenty-five million; doing research for a job, which increased 71%, from fourteen million per day to twenty-four million; and getting travel information, which showed a 67% increase, from six million Internet users per day in 2000 to ten million in 2004.
John Horrigan and Lee Rainie of the Pew/Internet find in The Internet's Growing Role in Life's Major Moments (April 19, 2006, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Major%20Moments_2006.pdf) that sixty million people (45% of Internet users) reported using the Internet to make a big decision or deal with an important problem during the two years before the survey. Of those who sought help via the Internet, 45% were considering a major financial decision and 43% said the Internet played a major role in helping them find a place to live.
The Internet is not the only new technology to have become ubiquitous in everyday American life. Microchips, sensors, and display screens can be found on or in just about every appliance in the home. They allow people to do everything from control the home thermostat from a remote computer to heat water with microwave radiation. Most American automobiles have dozens of complex sensors that monitor engine performance, regulate gas flow, sense obstacles, and pinpoint the vehicle's location. As of 2008, robots were making their way into U.S. homes to complete time-consuming tasks such as mowing the lawn and vacuuming the living room.
According to Deborah Fallows of the Pew/Internet, in The Internet and Daily Life (August 11, 2004, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Internet_and_Daily_Life.pdf), 92% online Americans surveyed during November and December 2003 believed the Internet was good for obtaining everyday information. Three-quarters (75%) considered the Internet a great way to conduct run-of-the-mill transactions. Table 2.1 in Chapter 2 lists some of the specific everyday activities online Americans engaged in during 2004 through 2007. Many of the activities involved referencing practical information. Over three-quarters (78%) of Internet users checked the weather via the Internet. More than half (54%) of online adults looked up addresses, zip codes, and numbers on the Internet. On a typical day in 2008, nearly four out of ten (39%) Internet users checked the news online, whereas three out of ten checked the weather (30%), researched a hobby (29%), or searched the Web for fun (28%). (See Figure 9.1.) Hobbyists, in particular, have embraced the Internet as a means to conduct research, connect with like-minded enthusiasts, share knowledge and ideas, and buy supplies and other
items of interest. By establishing a Web site or participating in online auctions, some have turned hobbies into part- or full-time businesses. Using the Internet to pursue favorite pastimes is popular among Internet users of all incomes and age categories. (See Table 9.1.)
Americans have also accepted online banking since the late 1990s, growing in number from ten million (13% of Internet users) in 1998 to sixty-three million (43%) by 2005. (See Figure 9.2.) The Pew/Internet reports in “Internet Activities” (February 15, 2008, http://www.pewinternet.org/trends/Internet_Activities_2.15.08.htm) that in September 2007, 53% of adult Internet users had done at least some banking online.
As Internet users adopted online activities, in some cases they abandoned the corresponding offline activities. For example, Fallows indicates that far more online Americans found maps or directions exclusively online (56%) than offline (14%) in 2003. In fact, at that time a full 20% of Internet users did all their banking and paid all their bills online, and 7% purchased everyday items such as groceries, books, and appliances on the Internet.
Communications have become a big part of people's everyday Internet experiences. E-mail, instant messaging, and blogging offer multiple opportunities for staying in touch with family, friends, and associates, as well as for
|TABLE 9.1 Demographic characteristics of Internet users who have searched for hobby information online, 2007|
|source: Maggie Griffith and Susannah Fox, “A Profile of Online Hobbyists,” in Data Memo: Hobbyists Online, Pew Internet & American|
Life Project, September 19, 2007, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Hobbies_2007.pdf (accessed August 29, 2008). Used by permission of the
Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
|% of adult Internet users who ever use the Internet to look for information about a hobby or interest||% of adult Internet users who used the Internet to look for information about a hobby or interest yesterday|
|All Internet users||83%||29%|
|English-speaking Hispanics (n 89)||83||29|
|Less than high school (n 67)||57||26|
|High school diploma||81||21|
|$30,000 household income||75||20|
|Dial-up connection at home||78||21|
|Broadband at home||89||34|
|Note: Population 1,492 Internet users.|
contacting distant organizations, becoming acquainted with others who share similar interests, or simply meeting new people. Fallows notes that in 2003, 79% of online users who usually communicated with friends and family used the Internet to communicate with them. Over one-quarter (26%) of online Americans who were dating or interested in meeting someone new did so online.
By 2006 the effects of the Internet on social ties were becoming noteworthy. In The Strength of Internet Ties (January 25, 2006, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Internet_ties.pdf), Jeffrey Boase et al. of the Pew/ Internet highlight the benefits of Internet communications in making it possible to keep in regular contact with large social networks of family, friends, and associates. (See Table 9.2.) Interestingly, Boase et al. find that using the Internet to communicate with a wide social network did not have a negative impact on in-person or phone communications as was predicted by some Internet observers during the early years of online communications. The researchers discover that people who e-mailed their core ties weekly were in phone contact 25% more than those who did not use e-mail. They determine that those who regularly used the Internet to maintain contact with their core group of social ties counted an average of thirty-seven people among their closest associates, compared to an average of thirty for those who did not use the
|TABLE 9.2 Impact of the Internet on social ties, 2006|
|source: Jeffrey Boase et al., “The Strength of Internet Ties: Summary of Findings at a Glance,” in The Strength of Internet Ties, Pew Internet &|
American Life Project, January 25, 2006, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Internet_ties.pdf (accessed August 29, 2008). Used by permission of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
|The Internet helps build social capital.|
|The Internet plays socially beneficial roles in a world moving towards “networked individualism.” Email allows people to get help from their social networks and the web lets them gather information and find support and information as they face important decisions.|
|The Internet supports social networks.|
|Email is more capable than in-person or phone communication of facilitating regular contact with large networks.|
|Email is a tool of “glocalization.” It connects distant friends and relatives, yet it also connects those who live nearby.|
|Email does not seduce people away from in-person and phone contact.|
|People use the Internet to put their social networks into motion when they need help with important issues in their lives.|
|The Internet's role is important in explaining the greater likelihood of online users getting help as compared to non-users.|
|Americans' use of a range of information technologies smooths their paths to getting help.|
|Those with many significant ties and access to people with a variety of different occupations are more likely to get help from their networks.|
|Internet users have somewhat larger social networks than non-users. The median size of an American's network of core and significant ties is 35. For Internet users, the median network size is 37; for non-users it is 30.|
|About 60 million Americans say the Internet has played an important or crucial role in helping them deal with at least one major life decision in the past two years.|
|The number of Americans relying on the Internet for major life decisions has increased by one-third since 2002.|
|At major moments, some people say the Internet helps them connect with other people and experts who help them make choices. Others say that the web helps them get information and compare options as they face decisions.|
Internet to keep in touch. People who used Internet communications especially benefited from these larger social safety nets during times of crisis or when facing major life decisions. These findings indicate that, rather than isolating people, online communication strengthen relationships and extend the social ties of its users.
BLOGGING. Among the forms of Internet communication that have rapidly gained acceptance is the Web log (blog), in which individuals publish their personal experiences and views on topics such as entertainment, politics, sports, and religion. Amanda Lenhart and Susannah Fox of the Pew/Internet indicate in Bloggers: A Portrait of the Internet's New Storytellers (July 19, 2006, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP%20Bloggers%20Report%20July%2019%202006.pdf) that twelve million (8%) Internet users in the United States maintained blogs in 2006 for a domestic audience of about fifty-seven million Internet users (39% of all users) who read them. According to Lenhart and Fox, the number of men and women was “evenly split,” and 54% of bloggers were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine. Almost eight out of ten (79%) people who had blogs in 2006 were connected to the Internet via broadband rather than dial-up service (20%). (See Table 9.3.) In general, bloggers were more frequent users of communications technologies than other Internet users. Bloggers were significantly more likely than other Internet users to use instant messaging, to send text
|TABLE 9.3 Demographics of bloggers compared with all Internet users, 2005–06|
|source: Amanda Lenhart and Susannah Fox, “Bloggers vs. Internet Users in General,” in Bloggers, Pew Internet & American Life Project, July 19, 2006, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP%20Bloggers%20Report%20July%2019%202006.pdf (accessed August 12, 2008). Used by permission of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.|
|Demographic groups||Bloggers||All Internet users|
messages using their cell phones, to read someone else's blog, to transform songs or images into their own creative works, and to share their own artworks, photos, or videos online. (See Table 9.4.)
In telephone interviews with Lenhart and Fox, bloggers shared their reasons for keeping a blog. More than half (52%) said expressing themselves creatively was a major reason for keeping a blog, and half (50%) said documenting their personal experiences or sharing them with others was also important. (See Table 9.5.) Thirty-seven percent just wanted to stay in touch with family and friends or share their practical knowledge and skills with others (34%). Few bloggers (7%) were expecting to
|TABLE 9.4 Communication technologies used by bloggers compared with all Internet users, 2005–06|
|source: Amanda Lenhart and Susannah Fox, “Bloggers Have a Lot to Say,” in Bloggers, Pew Internet & American Life Project, July 19, 2006, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP%20Bloggers%20Report%20July%2019%202006.pdf (accessed August 12, 2008). Used by permission of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.|
|Percentage of Internet users who use instant messaging||37%|
|Percentage of bloggers who use instant messaging||78|
|Percentage of Internet users who text message on a cell phone||35|
|Percentage of bloggers who text message on a cell phone||55|
|Percentage of Internet users who read someone else's blog||39|
|Percentage of bloggers who read someone else's blog||90|
|Percentage of Internet users who remix songs, text, or images into new creations||18|
|Percentage of bloggers who remix songs, text, or images into new creations||44|
|Percentage of Internet users who share their own artwork, photos, stories, or videos online||26|
|Percentage of bloggers who share their own artwork, photos, stories, or videos online||77|
|TABLE 9.5 Reasons people blog, 2005–06|
|source: Amanda Lenhart and Susannah Fox, “More Blog to Share Experiences Than to Make Money,” in Bloggers, Pew Internet & American|
Life Project, July 19, 2006, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP%20Bloggers%20Report%20July%2019%202006.pdf (accessed August 12,
2008). Used by permission of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
|Major reason||Minor reason||Not a reason|
|To express yourself creatively||52%||25%||23%|
|To document your personal experiences or share them with others||50||26||24|
|To stay in touch with friends and family||37||22||40|
|To share practical knowledge or skills with others||34||30||35|
|To motivate other people to action||29||32||38|
|To entertain people||28||33||39|
|To store resources or information that is important to you||28||21||52|
|To influence the way other people think||27||24||49|
|To network or to meet new people||16||34||50|
|To make money||7||8||85|
make money from their efforts; 85% said making money was not one of the reasons they wrote a blog.
Information technology has touched nearly every industry in the U.S. economy, and for many Americans communications technologies have provided the opportunity to work at home either in a home-based business or after hours for their primary employer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports in Work at Home in 2004 (September 22, 2005, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/homey.pdf) that as of May 2004, 20.7 million people (15% of nonagricultural workers in the United States) did some portion of their primary job at home and worked at home at least once per week. Three out of ten workers in management, professional, and related occupations worked at home at least part time, and this group accounted for nearly two-thirds of all those who worked at home. One out of five sales workers did some work at home each week. People who worked at home in 2004 were most often employed in professional and business services, financial activities, or the education and health services industry. About one-third of home workers in 2004 (approximately seven million people) were self-employed, and two-thirds of this group operated a home-based business that had no other location. According to the BLS, among workers who were at least twenty-five years old, those with a bachelor's degree or higher (32%) were six times more likely to work at home than those who had not completed high school (5%). Fifty-six percent of those who had no formal arrangement with their employers regarding at-home work stated they were working at home to “finish or catch up on work.” Of those with a formal arrangement with their employers, 40% stated it was the “nature of the job” to work extra hours at home, and 9% indicated they worked at home to “coordinate work schedule with personal or family needs.” Overall, 80.6% of at-home workers used a computer, and 69.6% connected to the Internet or e-mail to conduct their business. (See Table 9.6.)
In The Future of the Internet (January 9, 2005, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Future_of_Internet.pdf), a survey of 1,286 industry experts, Susannah Fox, Janna Quitney Anderson, and Lee Rainie of the Pew/Internet indicate that a trend of working at home is predicted to grow between 2004 and 2014 and to have a significant impact on family life. Most of those interviewed (56%) agreed that “by 2014, as telework and home-schooling expand, the boundaries between work and leisure will diminish significantly. This will sharply alter everyday family dynamics.” Agreeing with this prediction, A. Halavais of the State University of New York at Buffalo wrote, “I think that we are already seeing that the greatest change
|TABLE 9.6 Job-related work at home, by usage of electronic equipment and selected characteristics, May 2004|
|source: “Table 6. Job-Related Work at Home on Primary Job by Usage of Electronic Equipment at Home, Sex, Class of Worker, and Pay Status, May 2004,” in Work at Home in 2004, Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 22, 2005, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/homey.nr0.htm (accessed August 12, 2008)|
|Characteristic||Worked at homea (in thousands)||Computer||Internet or e-mail||Fax||Telephone||Other|
|Total, 16 years and over||20,673||80.6||69.6||43.1||78||6.6|
|Class of worker and pay statusb|
|Wage and salary workersc||13,678||83||71.5||35||73.4||6.5|
|Paid work at home||3,349||84.8||78.3||55.3||84.6||10.2|
|Unpaid work at home||10,189||82.8||69.6||28.3||69.7||5.3|
|With a home-based businesse||4,627||74||63.2||58.9||86.9||6.6|
|aIncludes persons who worked at home at least once per week. This total includes persons who did not report usage of electronic equipment.|
|bExcludes unpaid family workers, not shown separately.|
|cIncludes persons who worked at home but did not report pay status.|
|dIncludes both the incorporated and unincorporated self-employed.|
|eRefers to self-employed persons who worked at home and reported that they ran their business from home and no other location.|
|Note: Data refer to employed persons in nonagricultural industries who reported that they usually work at home at least once per week as part of their primary job. The sum of workers using electronic equipment at home exceeds the total number who worked at home because many of these workers used more than one type of equipment. “Other” electronic equipment includes scanners and other types of computer-related peripheral equipment.|
that the Internet enables is a fluidity of task over space. There is a tradition in many professions (including my own) of flexible workdays and places. I suspect that this flexibility will increasingly affect all forms of knowledge work, and this will be felt most acutely in our social and familial organization.” Barry Wellman of the University of Toronto wrote, “Ten years ago, pundits were fascinated by a formal, official move to telecommuting—where offices would close down and people work from home. In fact, we have much more flexwork: partial telecommuting where people take work home for the evening or weekend or stay home ‘to get work done’ and to avoid snowstorms (as I am doing today). The result is a contest for attention between family and work, with household members wondering when the telecommuter will look up from their screens and at them.” Mike Witherspoon of Connexxia observed, “This change to family dynamics can be very positive. Just as writing skills will become as important as they were early in American history, we can return to the home-centered work environment. When farms were the center of American life, families were an integral part of the workday. As we remove boundaries between work, personal and family life, families can grow closer and participate more with all aspects of life.”
From almost the moment the Internet became accessible to the general population in the mid-1990s, it has been used to find romance. Consequently, online dating has become one of the biggest Internet businesses. The Online Publisher's Association states in Online Paid Content: U.S. Market Spending Report (March 2006, http://www.online-publishers.org/media/153_W_opa_paid_content_report_fullyear05.pdf) that in 2005 the online dating industry brought in $503.4 million. According to Mary Madden and Amanda Lenhart of the Pew/Internet, in Online Dating (March 5, 2006, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Online_Dating.pdf), about ten million single and interested adult Internet users employed the Internet for dating in 2005. Forty percent of them had used the Internet to flirt with someone, 28% had used it to ask someone out on a date, and 9% had used e-mail to break up with someone they were dating.
Madden and Lenhart analyze the demographics of adult Internet users who used an online dating service such as Match.com, Eharmony.com, or Yahoo! personals. The researchers find that, in general, online daters tended to be males between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine who lived in urban and suburban areas. A lower percentage of online whites (10%) used online dating services than African-Americans (13%) or Hispanics (14%). Unlike the general Internet population, online daters did not necessarily have more education or wealth than those who did not date online. A higher percentage of Internet users with less than a high school education (14%) took part in online dating services than people with a college degree (10%). A higher percentage of those who made less than $30,000 turned to online dating than those who made more than $75,000. Both of these trends could largely be attributed to the fact that online daters were younger on the whole.
In general, a majority of people who had used online dating networks reported having generally pleasant experiences with the services. According to Madden and Lenhart, roughly half of online daters believed that the online method of dating was easier than other ways of meeting people. Fifty-two percent of those who had gone to a dating Web site, such as Eharmony.com or Match
.com, did not feel that online dating was dangerous, as opposed to 43% who believed some risk to personal information was involved. Yet, 52% of online daters believed that many people on online dating sites were dishonest about their marital status.
Those who did not go online to date were much more distrustful about Web sites that offered to pair people up. Two-thirds (66%) of the online adults who had not used a dating site said dating placed the daters' personal information at risk. One-third (29%) of online adults who had not used a dating site believed that those who dated online were desperate. Regardless of what people thought, 3% of Internet users who were married (three million people) met their spouse online. Though 3% may not be a large number, the Internet has been around for less than two decades. In the future, a much higher percentage of people will likely find each other online.
Use of the Internet for making retail purchases has been rising steadily for several years. The U.S. Census Bureau states in Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales (May 15, 2008, http://www.census.gov/mrts/www/data/html/08Q1.html) that retail e-commerce sales for the first quarter of 2008 amounted to $33.8 billion, or 3.3% of the $1 trillion total retail sales in the United States; the $33.8 billion figure represented an increase of 0.8% over e-commerce retail sales in the final quarter of 2007 and a 13.6% increase over the first quarter of 2007. Figure 9.3 shows the growth of e-commerce sales as a percent of all retail sales from 1999 through 2008. (“Adjusted” figures have been adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences but not for price changes.)
According to Bryant Ott of the Gallup Organization, in Is There a Digital Divide in Online Shopping? (December 20, 2005, http://www.gallup.com/poll/20527/There-Digital-Divide-Online-Shopping.aspx), 29% of people surveyed in September 2005 had purchased something online. The average purchase totaled $130, which was more than the average purchase made at most brick-and-mortar retailers, including specialty apparel stores ($123), department stores ($121), and discount retailers ($63). In fact, the average shopper only spent more money at an electronics store ($166). Wealth played a part in who bought merchandise online. Forty-eight percent of people who made more than $100,000 per year purchased something at an online retailer, compared to only 16% of those who made less than $35,000.
In Department, Discount Stores Top Christmas Shopping Spots (November 12, 2007, http://www.gallup.com/poll/102670/Department-Discount-Stores-Top-Christmas-Shopping-Spots.aspx), Joseph Carroll of the Gallup
Organization assesses changes in online buying habits during the 2007 holiday shopping season. Carroll reports that the highest percentage ever surveyed, about half (49%) of all poll respondents, expected to do at least some of their holiday shopping online. (See Figure 9.4.) Two-thirds (65%) of respondents between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four planned to shop online, as did more than half (57%) of those aged thirty-five to fifty-four. Only about one-quarter (26%) of those surveyed over the age of fifty-five said that they were likely to shop online during the holidays. Carroll also finds that the likelihood of shopping online increased with income. Seventy-two percent of survey respondents whose income was greater than $75,000 per year said they were “very” or “somewhat” likely to do some of their holiday shopping online in 2007, whereas only 20% of respondents making less than $30,000 expected to shop online. (See Table 9.7.)
John B. Horrigan of the Pew/Internet reports in Online Shopping (February 13, 2008, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Online%20Shopping.pdf) that by September 2007 about half (49%) of all American adults had made an online purchase. (See Figure 9.5.) In findings similar to Carroll's, Horrigan finds that online shoppers tended to be younger and more affluent. Seventy-two percent of online purchasers were under age fifty—26% of online shoppers were eighteen to twenty-nine years old and 46% were thirty to forty-nine years old. (See Table 9.8.) Those making more than $60,000 encompassed 41%
|TABLE 9.7 Poll respondents' Christmas shopping preferences, by income, 2007|
|source: Joseph Carroll, “Christmas Shopping Plans, by Household Income,” in Department, Discount Stores Top Christmas Shopping Spots, The Gallup Organization, November 12, 2007, http://www.gallup.com/poll/102670/Department-Discount-Stores-Top-Christmas-Shopping-Spots.aspx#1 (accessed August 29, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.|
|[Percentage saying “very” or “somewhat” likely]|
|$30,000 per year||$30,000 to $75,000 per year||$75,000 or more per year|
|Online shopping on the Internet||20||49||72|
of online purchasers—22% of online shoppers made $60,000 to $100,000 per year and 19% made more than $100,000 per year. Seventy-four percent of those who bought items online were white.
Horrigan also investigates what shopping activities people had done online besides making purchases. More than eight out of ten (81%) of poll respondents who used the Internet had used it to research a product they were considering buying, but only two out of ten (20%) had done so on the previous day. (See Table 9.9.) Only about one-quarter (26%) of Internet users had ever participated in an online auction, and fewer than two out of ten (17%)
|TABLE 9.8 Demographic profiles of Internet users who have and who have not bought a product online, 2007|
|source: John Horrigan, “Demographic Profile of Internet Users Who Have Ever Bought a Product Online Compared to Internet Users Who Have Not,” in Online Shopping, Pew Internet & American Life Project, February 13, 2008, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Online%20Shopping.pdf|
(accessed August 29, 2008). Used by permission of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations
presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
|% each demographic group who make up the purchasing and non- purchasing population||Online purchasers||Internet users, haven't bought online|
|White (not Hispanic)||74||66|
|Black (not Hispanic)||10||11|
|Hispanic (English speaking)||10||18|
|Less than high school||6||11|
|High school grad||29||25|
|Has broadband at home||77||53|
|Number of cases||1,111||570|
|Note: Sample size 1,684.|
had ever paid to access or download digital content such as music or videos. Horrigan also analyzes these figures by income level and finds that 99% of Internet users with an annual income greater than $100,000 had done at least one shopping-related activity online at some point. (See Table 9.10.) Even in the lowest income bracket, those earning less than $25,000 annually, 91% of Internet users had researched or purchased a product online at some time.
High-income Internet users also gave the most favorable assessment of online shopping. Those whose annual income was greater than $100,000 agreed more often than those in lower income groups that the Internet is “the best place to buy items that are hard to find,” that online shopping is convenient, that it saves time, and that
|TABLE 9.9 Participation by Internet users in selected online shopping activities, 2007|
|source: John Horrigan, “Online Shopping Activities, ” in Online Shopping, Pew Internet & American Life Project, February 13, 2008, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Online%20Shopping.pdf (accessed August 29, 2008). Used by permission of the Pew Internet & American Life Project,|
which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
|% of Internet users who have ever done this||% of Internet users who did this yesterday (the day before they responded to our survey)|
|Research online a product they are thinking of buying||81%||20%|
|Purchase a product online such as books, music, or clothing||66||6|
|Bought or made travel reservations online||64||4|
|Participated in an online auction||26||3|
|Paid to access or download digital content||17||4|
|Bought or sold stocks online||11||1|
|Note: Sample size for Internet users 1,684.|
it is the “best place to find bargains.” (See Table 9.11.) Interestingly, those in the lowest income group were the most likely to express a negative opinion of online shopping, agreeing more often than those with higher incomes that they do not like to give personal information online, that they prefer to see items in person before buying, and that “shopping online is complicated.”
As time passed, many Internet users met, developed social relationships, or spent long periods of time online in virtual worlds such as Second Life (http://secondlife.com/), Ultima Online (http://guide.uo.com/), and other massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Even children took care of virtual pets online in WebKinz World (http://www.webkinz.com/), where among many other activities players could send their pets to school; earn money by working, growing crops, or playing games; and shop for virtual groceries, vacations, and home furnishings. Some researchers began to wonder if online social worlds would begin to replace interpersonal relations in the real world as people became addicted to virtual reality (VR). In The Future of the Internet II (September 24, 2006, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Future_of_Internet_2006.pdf), Janna Quitney Anderson and Lee Rainie of the Pew/Internet asked 742 Internet leaders, developers, and stakeholders if they believed society might start to lose great numbers of individuals to VR as their online activities and relationships began to seem more satisfying than everyday life in the real world. More than half (56%) of those surveyed agreed with the
|TABLE 9.10 Participation by Internet users in selected online shopping activities, by household income, 2007|
|source: John Horrigan, “Online Shopping Activities: By Household Income,” in Online Shopping, Pew Internet & American Life Project, February 13, 2008, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Online%20Shopping.pdf (accessed August 29, 2008). Used by permission of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.|
|[% of Internet users in each group who have “ever” done activity]|
|All||Less than $25K||Between $25K and $40K||Between $40K and $60K||Between $60K and $100K||Greater than $100K|
|Research a product for potential purchase||81%||75%||76%||85%||87%||91%|
|Buy a product||66||58||60||65||73||83|
|Buy or make travel reservation||64||44||53||64||76||84|
|Participate in online auction||26||19||22||23||34||38|
|Paid to access or download digital content||17||15||21||14||15||21|
|Bought or sold stocks online||11||6||11||8||12||21|
|% who have ever done at least one||92%||91%||90%||94%||95%||99%|
|% who yesterday did at least one||26||19||23||25||29||42|
|Number of cases (Internet users)||1,684||209||202||290||352||281|
|Note:The number of cases does not sum to the sample's total of Internet users because the table does not include respondents who did not respond to the question on household income.|
|TABLE 9.11 Poll respondents' attitudes about online shopping, by household income, 2007|
|source: John Horrigan, “Attitudes about Online Shopping: By Household Income,” in Online Shopping, Pew Internet & American Life Project,|
February 13, 2008, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Online%20Shopping.pdf (accessed August 29, 2008). Used by permission of the
Pew Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of
|[% of Internet users in each age group who “strongly agree” with statement]|
|Less than $25K||Between $25K and $40K||Between $40K and $60K||Between $60K and $100K||Greater than $100K|
|Upside of online shopping|
|The Internet is the best place to buy items that are hard to find||26%||23%||25%||28%||32%|
|Shopping online is convenient||22||24||22||28||36|
|Shopping online saves me time||19||19||18||24||31|
|The Internet is the best place to find bargains||12||10||8||8||13|
|Downside of online shopping|
|I don't like giving my credit card number or personal information online||44%||32%||36%||35%||25%|
|I prefer to see the things I buy before I buy them||39||24||32||26||22|
|Shopping online is complicated||6||4||5||4||2|
|Number of cases (Internet users)||209||202||290||352||281|
|Note: The number of cases does not sum to the sample's total of Internet users because the table does not include respondents who did not respond to the question on household income.|
idea that “the attractive nature of virtual-reality worlds will also lead to serious addiction problems for many, as we lose people to alternate realities.”
In the opinion of the Internet pioneer Glenn Ricart, “There will be an increasing problem with people ‘disconnecting’ during their so-called leisure time and immersing themselves in purely virtual realities for entertainment purposes. We've already seen how these can be addictive, and by 2020, the technological capability for them might be near ubiquitous—leading to perhaps an entire generation ‘opting-out’ of the real world and a paradoxical decrease in productivity as the people who provide the motive economic power no longer are in touch with the realities of the real world.”
However, others such as the technology forecaster and theorist Paul Saffo of Stanford University considered online entertainment and communications simply another development in media that began with books. He wrote, “The history of media is a history of addiction for some, and moral hazard for others. Remember that half a millennium ago, Cervantes' Don Quixote was driven to windmill-tilting madness because he read too many books. . . . A century ago, parents lamented that kids were spending too much time inside reading. In mid-century the same fears were transferred to paperbacks, movies and then TV. Now it is videogames and the Web. VR is clearly next, and its seductive hyper-realism will be seductive indeed. But one generation's outrage is the next generation's mainstream tool. I will bet that in 2020, parents will be lecturing their children that they can't go out and play until they finish their VR-based simulation games.”
During the 1970s and early 1980s advances in circuit manufacturing lowered the price of integrated electronic components from hundreds of dollars to less than $10 in some instances. Since then, electronics chips, displays, and sensors have worked their way into everything from washing machines to hairdryers to coffeemakers. Overall, such electronics have given people more control over the settings on their appliances, lighting, and heating and cooling systems.
High-Tech Home Features
Many home appliances and systems have become fully programmable and even Internet accessible. For example, interactive, online thermostats come installed in many new homes. These thermostats, which can be connected to the Internet, give the homeowner the option of remotely setting and monitoring the temperature of the house from any computer or cell phone with Internet access. The thermostat also alerts the user of a malfunction or a gas leak in the system. Zone lighting systems contain electronics that enable homeowners to program lighting configurations for multiple areas of the same room. With the touch of a button, one side of a room can be illuminated for reading while the other side remains dark for watching television.
Another programmable fixture that is available in many newer homes is the electronic keypad locking system. The advantage of the keypad over the normal lock is that it can be easily reprogrammed. If a homeowner wants to keep someone out, this can be done by simply changing the lock code. The lock can also be set to let in certain people, such as a painter, only during certain times of the day. Some keypad locks contain circuit boards that can be plugged into a broadband connection, which gives the homeowner the option of remotely changing the lock codes or keeping a record of who comes and goes. According to Matt Woolsey, in “High-Security, High-End Homes” (Forbes, March 29, 2007, http://www.forbes.com/2007/03/28/secure-tech-homes-forbeslife-cx_mw_0329securehomes.html), the electronic security industry experienced a growth in demand following the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., in September 2001, and market research indicated that nearly one-quarter of homes in the United States had electronic security systems by 2007. By 2008 some companies offered automated home systems that tied the lights, door locks, thermostat, and home security system into one control center that could be accessed by the Internet. These systems can be placed in different modes for when the homeowner is awake, asleep, or away. When the homeowner goes out of town, all he or she has to do is press a button and the lights are turned off, the alarm is set, and the thermostat is turned down. In addition, in the event a security alarm is activated, systems automatically send prerecorded messages to phone numbers that have been programmed into the system, including emergency services or the homeowner's work or cell phone.
As technology progresses and electronics become even more affordable, makers of appliances will likely continue to add additional electronic features. In “Students Make Washing Machine Talk” (BBC News, September 12, 2004), Geoff Adams-Spink notes that Whirlpool teamed with Michigan State University engineers to create a talking washing machine that can aid blind people as they do their laundry. Besides containing Braille instructions, the washing machine tells the user what command he or she has selected as each button is pushed or knob is turned. A status button has also been incorporated, which reads back the current settings when pressed. The additional circuitry costs only about $30 to install. The prototype unit was tested in the home of Michael Hudson (http://www.blindcitizens.org/advocatess2004.htm), who praised the machine on the Web site of the Association of Blind Citizens. According to Hudson, “It's becoming increasingly difficult to find household appliances I can use because they are all push buttons and touch control.... This is purely exciting because you can turn the machine on and it reports its status.... It puts a smile on your face.”
A number of technologies were emerging in 2008 that allowed people to operate every minor and major appliance via a remote control or telephone. One such protocol, known as ZigBee, was being developed by the ZigBee Alliance, a consortium of over 250 companies that includes Motorola, Honeywell, Samsung, and Mitsubishi Electric. ZigBee is a networkable, low-power, two-way communication technology with a range of about 250 feet (76 m) that can receive and send data. Zigbee-enabled utilities and appliances can be operated and adjusted through a wireless remote. In this way, every appliance or entertainment system in the house can be monitored and activated via remote control. A base station capable of communicating with the ZigBee radio chips can be easily attached to a phone line as well. By calling into the base station via phone, the homeowner can check the status of an oven or a coffeemaker using the touch-tone commands.
Around the turn of the twenty-first century the first practical, automated robots went on sale for the consumer market. Far from the convenient marvels depicted on futuristic television shows, these robots performed only simple tasks. As of 2008, a number of models of robotic vacuum cleaners could be found on the market, and people were buying them. According to the iRobot Corporation (2008, http://www.irobot.com/sp.cfm?pageid=203), the maker of Roomba robotic vacuums, the company had sold more than three million units worldwide by 2008. Most of these vacuum cleaners used various sensors to feel their way around the room, picking up dirt as they went. For example, the Electrolux Trilobite shoots out ultrasonic signals like a bat to detect and avoid obstacles in its way as it goes back and forth across the room, sucking up dirt and recording where it has been.
Other devices available in 2008 included robotic mowers, pool cleaners, and gutter cleaners. The Robomow by Friendly Robotics automatically zigzags back and forth over a lawn, cutting the grass as it goes. Sensors are imbedded in bumpers that surround the entire mower, and if it bangs into something bigger than a large piece of bark, it backs off. A low-voltage guide wire set up by the user around the perimeter of the yard lets the mower know if it is crossing the boundaries of the lawn, in which case it turns around. In addition, the mower can be programmed to leave its base station and mow the lawn at preset days and times, and then return to the base station to be recharged. Robomow models were priced at about $1,500 and up in 2008.
Another type of robot that made its debut in 2005 was the PC-BOT by White Box Robotics. In “Plug-and-Play Robots” (Scientific American, March 2004), W. Wayt Gibbs remarks that the knee-high robots “look like R2-D2 droids that have been redesigned by Cadillac.” PC-BOTs are built from everyday computer components and accessories. Each one has a digital camera, speakers, slots for peripheral components such as a disc drive, and sensors mounted on the outside. A standard hard drive, microprocessor, a drive motor, and a stabilizer are contained within the chassis. The whole unit is mounted on wheels. The innovation behind the PC-BOTs, however, does not lie in its components, but in the fact that the machine is fully programmable. According to Gibbs, face and object recognition software can be placed on a PC-BOT, which allow it to recognize various people and objects in its environment and then act on that information. One useful application allows the robot to roam around the owner's house when the owner is out of town. If the robot spots a strange figure or detects a loud noise, it can e-mail or send a page to the owner. In 2008 PC-BOTs were available at about $5,600 and up.
Several large companies and many academic laboratories have been experimenting with complex humanoid robots. The most famous of these is probably Honda's Advanced Step in Innovation Mobility (ASIMO) robot (http://world.honda.com/ASIMO/). Researchers at Honda have been working on the ASIMO design since 1986. As of 2008, the robot could recognize faces programmed into its memory, walk hand in hand with a person, climb stairs, and run at a speed of 3.7 miles (6 km) per hour. Honda's goal is to create a robot that can be remotely controlled by a handicapped person to complete basic chores around the house such as retrieving the mail, doing the dishes, or moving items from one place to another.
Many scientists and engineers worldwide have been working on ways to make robots even more anthropomorphic (having human characteristics) than ASIMO. In 2004 a group of robot scientists at Purdue University and Japan's Advanced Institute of Science and Technology were trying to design robots that had fluid body movements like humans. According to Natalie Goel, in “Will New Robots Kick Honda's ASIMO?” (PC Magazine, December 2004), Purdue scientists were placing sensors on human bodies (the same used to create human animation in video games and movies) and then recording precisely how people performed simple tasks in three dimensions. The article “Robot Special: Almost Human” (New Scientist, February 4, 2006) mentions that scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Johnson Space Center were attempting to develop a robotic hand that was as sensitive and dexterous as the human hand. By 2006 the NASA group had managed to program the hand to pick up a small bolt with a pair of tweezers as well as open the hatch door on a model of the Hubble Space Telescope. Still another group of researchers at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, were engineering a talking robot mouth that spoke in much the same way as a human mouth—by forcing air through a tube and then manipulating the airwaves with a voice box, tongue, and lips. Given the current cost to produce and maintain humanoid robots, however, the immediate future of robots will likely resemble the PC-BOT more than the ASIMO.
Technological innovations for everyday life are not just occurring in the home. Many types of advanced information technology have made it into the automobile as well. Vehicle buyers in 2009 had the option to choose certain models of sedans and minivans with night-vision cameras and proximity sensors in their bumpers. Night-vision cameras enable drivers to see obstacles in the road at night, and proximity sensors help prevent accidents by alerting the driver if something, such as a parked vehicle or a small child, is too close to the bumper. Global positioning systems (GPS) have been incorporated into many new vehicles. GPS continuously picks up signals broadcast from a network of stationary (nonorbiting) satellites positioned above the earth. By analyzing its proximity in relation to three of the satellites in the network, GPS can pinpoint its location on the earth's surface. Most systems that use GPS then combine this information with an up-to-date map of the local roads to display the vehicle's position on a street map.
Advances in Safety
In “Intelligence: Behold the All-Seeing, Self-Parking, Safety-Enforcing, Networked Automobile” (Popular Science, September 25, 2004), Paul Horrell suggests that vehicles will not only continue to become more fuel efficient and faster but also more intelligent. Companies were employing external sensors to inform the driver and systems within the vehicle of impending danger. For example, the French automobile maker Peugeot Citroë n installed a system of infrared sensors that scan painted road markings on each side of the vehicle and alert the driver if he or she is straying out of the lane. If the blinker is not on and the driver strays to the left, the sensors perceive the vehicle crossing the line in the road and the left side of the driver's seat vibrates. If the driver strays to the right, the right side of the seat vibrates. Automobile makers have also developed systems that allow vehicles to communicate with one another to warn drivers of delays or of dangerous road conditions ahead. Sensor-equipped cars employing wireless local area networks (WLAN) send information via the WLAN to warn other cars in close proximity when they encounter a traffic jam or black ice. These cars then relay the information to other cars and so on until every car and driver in the area is made aware of the traffic jam or the black ice.
David Shepardson reports in “Safety Sells with Auto Buyers” (Detroit News, April 19, 2007) that among the most promising new safety technologies are frontal radar and driver-state monitoring. Frontal radar is a collision-avoidance technology that works by informing drivers of obstacles in their path up to 660 feet (201 m) ahead. The technology is integrated into adaptive cruise control to automatically slow the vehicle to keep a safe distance behind other vehicles. Driver-state monitoring incorporates infrared cameras to assess the driver's fatigue level, issuing a warning if the driver seems too tired to drive safely.
In-Vehicle Communications Systems
By combining GPS, cell phone, and sensor technology, several companies have developed in-vehicle communications systems. General Motors' (GM) OnStar notes in “Auto Insurance First: Technology Lets Americans Who Drive Less, Pay Less” (July 17, 2007, http://www.onstar.com/us_english/jsp/new_at_onstar/low_mileage.jsp) that it was the most widely used of these in-vehicle systems, with more than five million subscribers. OnStar, which is a subsidiary of GM, was first offered on GM vehicles in 1996. The system is activated when the user presses either a red or a blue button in the vehicle or when the vehicle's airbags are deployed. Pressing the blue button instructs the OnStar cellular unit to dial the main OnStar switchboard. A GPS then relays the vehicle's coordinates through the built-in mobile phone to the operator, telling him or her exactly where the vehicle is. Sensors planted on the vehicle's major systems let the operator know how it is functioning. The vehicle owner can then request roadside assistance, directions, or information on the status of the vehicle. In the event of a life-threatening emergency, the red button contacts an OnStar emergency service operator, who calls the nearest emergency service provider. The system is also triggered if the air bags are deployed. In this event, the OnStar emergency operator is called, and he or she notifies the nearest emergency service provider, telling it where the accident took place as well as the make and model of the vehicle. Furthermore, the user can call the OnStar operator from a phone outside the vehicle to open the door locks or to report a stolen vehicle. Finally, once each month owners of OnStar-equipped vehicles receive an e-mail containing a diagnostic analysis of their vehicle that covers everything from the condition of the engine and braking systems to the pressure in their tires and when they need to change their oil.