The Internet and the Electronic Age

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Chapter 1: The Internet and the Electronic Age

History of the Internet
Digital Divide
Future of Computing and the Internet

The Internet was a Cold War military project. It was designed for purposes of military communication in a United States devastated by a Soviet nuclear strike. . . . When I look at the Internetthat paragon of cyberspace todayI see something astounding and delightful. It's as if some grim fallout shelter had burst open and a full-scale Mardi Gras parade had come out.

Bruce Sterling, in Literary FreewareNot for Commercial Use (with William Gibson), Speeches to the National Academy of Sciences Convocation on Technology and Education, Washington, DC, May 10, 1993

Since the 1980s electronics and communications technologies have become integrated into nearly every aspect of American life, transforming the ways in which people shop, find information, work, and communicate with one another. The speed with which these new technologies have proliferated through American homes and offices is nothing short of astounding. Cell phones, which were once novelties occupying the middle front seat of a car, can now be found in the pockets of many twelve-year-olds. Computers and the Internet, once only accessible to those who worked in government installations, large corporations, and academic institutions, are present in most American homes.

Jennifer Cheeseman Day, Alex Janus, and Jessica Davis of the U.S. Census Bureau report in Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2003 (October 2005, that in 1984 only 8.2% of U.S. households had computers. By 2003 the number of homes with computers had increased to 61.8%. The Internet, which was not available to average Americans in 1984, found its way into 55% of U.S. households by 2003, and Internet access continued to increase. Industry and research estimates of the number of American Internet users in 2007 ranged from 165 million to more than 200 million. Figure 1.1 shows the growth of Internet use by Americans over the age of eighteen between 1995 and 2007. Only about two out of ten American adults were Internet users in 1996; by December 2007, 75% of American adults reported that they went online at least occasionally.

Since its inception, the Internet has reduced the time needed to complete dozens of mundane tasks, such as finding directions, writing personal correspondence, and conducting financial transactions. Because of these conveniences, online Americans continue to use the Internet more each year. A poll conducted by the Gallup Organization in December 2007 found that 43% of Internet users reported spending more than an hour per day online in 2007. (See Table 1.1.) In 2002 only 26% of American Internet users spent that much time online. Table 1.2 provides details about the activities people did on the Internet in 2005 as compared to 2003. Not surprisingly, the activities that people engaged in most during both years were sending and receiving e-mail and checking the news and the weather. However, more and more people were turning to the Internet to conduct increasingly complex transactions. The number of Internet users paying bills online rose eleven percentage points between 2003 and 2005, from 29% to 40%. The number of online Americans making travel plans increased eight percentage points, from 44% to 52%.

Even though the development of technology has affected most people in a positive way, significant pitfalls have developed as well. Typically, disadvantaged groups have been left at a bigger disadvantage because the most innovative technologies have been embraced faster by the well educated and wealthy. The Internet and computer databases have also made fraud much easier. The number of cases of identity theft in the United States has skyrocketed. Each day thieves steal hundreds of Social Security and credit card numbers by simply surfing the Internet or by sending out fraudulent e-mails. The number of incidents in which online consumers are billed for goods or services they did not order or pay for items that are never shipped ranges into the millions. According to Keith B. Anderson of the Federal Trade Commission, in Consumer Fraud in the

TABLE 1.1 Amount of time poll respondents spent on the Internet, 200207
source: How Much Time, If at All, Do You Personally Spend Using the InternetMore Than an Hour a Day, up to One Hour a Day, a Few Times a Week, a Few Times a Month or Less, or Never? in Computers and the Internet, The Gallup Organization, 2008, Computers-Internet.aspx (accessed June 27, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.
 More than an hour %Up to one hour %A few times a week %A few times a month or less %Never %No opinion %
2007 Dec 69 43 17 11 7 23 *
2006 Dec 1114 37 19 13 8 24 *
2005 Dec 58 33 18 13 9 27 *
2004 Dec 58 32 16 19 8 25 *
2003 Dec 1114 27 20 15 10 27 1
2002 Dec 58 26 16 18 12 28 *

United States: The Second FTC Survey (October 2007,, 10.5 million fraud victims (21.5% of reported cases) in the United States had been deceived by an offer published on a Web site or contained in an e-mail solicitation.

TABLE 1.2 Online activities of poll respondents, 2003 and 2005
source: Lydia Saad, % Do Activity Frequently/Occasionally, in Mail and News Are Main Internet Attractions, The Gallup Organization, February 6, 2006, Internet-Attractions.aspx (accessed July 10, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.
 2003 %2005 %Change % points
Paying bills online2940+11
Making travel plans4452+8
Checking news and weather6872+4
Sending and reading e-mail8487+3
Finding medical advice3841+3
Budgeting personal finances2629+3
Playing games3128-3
Using instant messaging3428-6

Another problem that appears to be growing worse is the number of viruses, worms, and Trojan horses making their way around the Internet. Viruses are programs or codes that infect computers by secretly infiltrating systems and interfering with proper functioning; worms are destructive codes that copy themselves over and over on a computer or network; and Trojan horses are software programs or files that seem legitimate yet act maliciously on the computer or secretly provide access to information contained on the computer to outsiders. In Computer Virus Prevalence Survey 2004 (2005,, the ICSA Lab states that 392 virus encounters occurred among every 1,000 computers per month in 2004. Not only do viruses, worms, and hackers cost victims time and energy, but also they put valuable information at risk. F-Secure, a global computer security corporation, reports in F-Secure Quarterly Security Wrap-up for First Quarter of 2008 (March 31, 2008, that its laboratories were receiving twenty-five thousand samples of malicious software (known in the industry as malware [mal icious soft ware ]) each week in early 2008, and that it expected the number of identified viruses and Trojans to reach one million by the end of 2008.

In addition, mobile phones are also susceptible to virus attacks. In October 2004 the first mobile phone virus was detected in Southeast Asia. The virus, known as Cabir, infects mobile phone software and can be used to steal information from mobile phone address books. Since that time other viruses have been identified that target mobile devices, particularly smart phones and those with enhanced Web and data capabilities. In some cases the viruses caused mobile phones to send mass text messages using a service that charged the sender a high fee for each message. Others erased stored data, disabled functions, or automatically routed phone calls through high-priced communications providers.

Despite such difficulties, technological innovation is showing no sign of slowing down. It is likely that within just a few years Americans will be carrying powerful portable computers that are nearly as small as present-day organizers. The trends toward wireless connectivity, touch-screen functioning, voice-recognition software, and alternative power sources will continue. Price tags at the grocery store will give off radio signals that will automatically register the merchandise on a credit card when the buyer leaves the market. Meanwhile, robotic appliances will automate some of the more tedious domestic chores, including lawn mowing, vacuuming, and cleaning gutters.

History of the Internet

At the center of the information technology and electronics revolution lies the Internet. Many believe the Internet had its origins on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite into orbit with four military rockets. The news of Sputnik, a beeping steel sphere a little bigger in diameter than a basketball, sent the U.S. military into a frenzy. At the time, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in what became known as the cold war, a period of sustained military buildup and ideological conflict. Americans were fearful that Soviet satellite technology could be used to spy on the United States or to launch missile attacks on U.S. targets. Technological superiority, the one advantage the United States thought it had over the Russians, now seemed tenuous.

In response, the U.S. government formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) within the U.S. Department of Defense in 1958. The central mission of this new agency was to develop state-of-the-art technology to stay well ahead of the Soviet Union. One of the first things on the ARPA's agenda was to create a system by which ARPA operational bases could communicate with one another and their contractors via computer. The agency wanted the system to be resilient enough to survive a nuclear attack.

Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider (19151990), a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was appointed to oversee the computer research program at the ARPA in 1962. He conferred with some of the leading researchers in networking technology at the time, including Leonard Kleinrock (1934), then an MIT graduate student, and Lawrence Roberts (1937). Their solution, first published in 1967, was a nationwide network of ARPA computers known as ARPANET. In this network a user on any computer terminal in the network would be able to send a message to multiple users at other computer terminals. If any one computer was knocked out in a nuclear attack, the remaining stations could still communicate with each other.

For this network to function properly, the researchers established that the computers would first have to break down information into discrete packets. These packets were then to be sent along high-speed phone lines and reassembled on reaching their destination at another computer. At the time, telephone conversations traveled across dedicated telephone wires in one long stream of data from one user to another like a single train traveling along a track. Even though this was adequate for chatting with far-off relatives, it did not work well when one computer attempted to send data to several other computers on the network. By packetizing data, the information became more flexible. Much like cars on a highway, the packets could be routed easily to multiple computers. If one packet of information went bad during transmission, it did not disrupt the stream of data transmitting from one computer to another and could easily be resent. Packets could also carry information about themselves and where they were going, they could be compressed for speed, and they could be encrypted for security purposes.

After two years of engineering the parts needed for ARPANET, ARPA researchers set up the first four computer centers in the network. They were located at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Stanford Research Institute, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah. Between these nodes,

AT&T had laid down telephone lines capable of transmitting data at 50 kilobytes per second (a kilobyte is 1,000 bytes). The first test of the system commenced on October 29, 1969, when Charles S. Kline at UCLA tried logging into the Stanford system. On encountering the letter G in the word LOGIN, the system crashed.

A Loose Affiliation of Networks

Eventually, the researchers at UCLA worked out the problems, and two years later ARPANET was fully functional and had fifteen nodes linked to it. Figure 1.2 shows ARPANET in September 1971. Throughout the early and mid-1970s the development of networking technologies progressed slowly. Ray Tomlinson (1941) invented the first e-mail program in 1971 to send typed messages across the network, and a year later the first computer-to-computer chat took place at UCLA. In 1973 Robert Metcalfe (1946) at Xerox developed Ethernet to connect computers and printers in a large organization. Three years later at AT&T Bell Labs, Michael E. Lesk (1945) put together the program Unix-to-Unix-copy protocol (UUCP) that allowed Unix computers, typically used by academics, to communicate with one another over the phone lines.

Technological developments such as these allowed people and organizations that were not connected into ARPANET to set up networks of their own by the late 1980s and the early 1990s. One of the largest of these was the Computer Science Network, which was established by a number of universities with help from the National Science Foundation (NSF). These universities recognized the advantages in resource sharing and communication that ARPANET provided the Ivy League and West Coast schools and wanted to develop similar capabilities. Another network known as Usenet was initially established to connect researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, and it eventually spread throughout the country. The Because It's Time Network (BITNET) was formed to connect computers in the City University of New York system. Most of these smaller networks used standard telephone lines to operate. They were set up primarily to transfer scientific data, share computing resources, post items on bulletin boards, and provide e-mail.

One big problem was that these different networks could not readily communicate with one another. Each network used different methods to identify the computers within the network. A computer in one network could not even recognize the computers in different networks, and information packets sent out from one network could not navigate the other networks. The situation would be analogous to a state in the United States having its own unique postal address system that no mail carriers outside of that state could understand.

During the 1970s the engineers Vinton Gray Cerf (1943) and Robert E. Kahn (1938) devised the Transmission Control Program and the Internet Protocol (TCP/ IP). This suite of programs created a universal address system that could be installed on any existing network. Once installed, the machines on the network could recognize and send information to a machine on any other network, provided they also had TCP/IP. In 1983 ARPANET was split into military and civilian sections, both of which adopted TCP/IP. Many consider the adoption of TCP/IP by ARPANET to be the event that gave birth to the Internet. To this day, each machine on the Internet has a unique IP address that identifies that machine on a network. Servers typically have permanent IP numbers assigned to them, whereas most personal computers are given a different number by an Internet service provider (ISP) each time the user begins a new session.

In the year the Internet was born, home computing was still in its infancy. The Commodore 64 had just made its debut, sporting a 1 megahertz microprocessor and 64 kilobytes of random access memory. Relatively few people owned home computers in 1983. Most of them used their machines for basic business applications, such as word processors and spreadsheets, and for playing games. Home users did not have direct access to the Internet. Low-speed modems were widely available by the mid- to late 1980s, and people could dial directly into servers owned by CompuServe, Quantum Computer Services (later to be renamed America Online [AOL]), and Prodigy. These services allowed people to post messages, go into chat rooms, play games, or send and receive e-mail. None of these services were linked to the Internet, and e-mails could only be sent among people subscribing to the same service.

The only people who could surf the Internet freely were those who had access to powerful mainframe computers, most of which were owned by universities, the government, and large corporations. The Internet was an uninviting place in the early 1980s. Users connecting to the Internet had to know exactly what they were looking for to get it. To reach another computer or server on the Internet, users had to key in the IP address for that computer, which consisted of a string of up to twelve numbers, such as To navigate a server, a computer operator had to type in computer code on a prompt line and sift through cryptic directories. There were no Web browsers, colorful Internet pages, or search engines.

By 1984 the dedicated name server (DNS), developed by the University of Wisconsin, was introduced, making the Internet somewhat more user-friendly. A DNS is a computer server on the Internet with a database that pairs domain names with IP addresses, giving people the ability to type in a name instead of a twelve-digit number to reach an Internet destination. Modern Internet browsers contact one of many DNSs each time an address, such as, is entered into the address bar. Most ISPs have a DNS filled with the names and IP address numbers of widely used sites. Once the browser makes the request from a DNS, the name server sends back the IP address number, which for Yahoo is The Internet browser then uses this IP address number to access the site (Yahoo in this case).

Along with these name servers, a dedicated name system was also put into place so that no two names would be the same. Domain names with a minimum of two levels were established. The top level designated the country or economic sector a computer is in (e.g., .com or .gov), and a unique second-level domain name designated the organization itself (National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] or Google). The Information Sciences Institute was put in charge of managing the root DNS in 1985 for all domains to make sure that no two were alike and to track who was registered for what name. Some of the first domain names to be registered were,,, and

A Major Expansion in the Mid-1980s

In 1986 Internet use expanded exponentially when the NSF installed new supercomputers and a new backbone for the U.S. Internet service, giving rise to the NSFNet. By 2008 ISPs and cable companies typically had their own backbones, which were all tied into one another. When a home user connects to the Internet via phone, digital subscriber line, satellite link, or cable, the signal is directed to a bank of modems called a point of presence (POP) that is owned by the service provider. (See Figure 1.3.) Each POP from each service provider, be it AOL or Comcast or one of many others, feeds into a network access point (NAP). These NAPs are connected to one another via backbones that consist of bundles, or trunks, of fiber-optic cables that carry cross-country transmissions. The first NSF-funded backbone consisted of 56-kilobytes-per-second wire to connect the access points. The wire was laid down by AT&T. The NSF also provided five supercomputers to route traffic between the NAPs and bundles. In 1988 the NSF upgraded the NSFNet when it installed supercomputers that could handle 1.5 gigabytes of traffic per second and fiber-optic line that could transfer information at 1.5 megabytes per second. (Computers process the long lines of complex computer code in small quantities known as bytes. Each byte consists of a string of eight ones and zeros that can be used to represent binary numbers from 0 to 255. In binary, which is a base-two number system, 1 is 00000001, 2 is 00000010, 3 is 00000011, and so on up to 255, which is represented as 11111111. A thousand bytes

equal a kilobyte, a million bytes equal a megabyte, and a billion bytes equal a gigabyte.)

The creation of the NSFNet ended the transmission bottlenecks that existed in the early Internet. The network also provided access for most major research institutions and universities. Academic departments and government agencies across the country jumped at the chance to set up servers and share information with their colleagues. Richard T. Griffiths states in History of the Internet, Internet for Historians (October 11, 2002, http://www.let.leide that from 1986 to 1987 the number of hosts (machines with a distinct IP address) on the Internet jumped from five thousand to twenty-eight thousand.

The NSF strictly prohibited the use of its site for commercial purposes. Though such a rule may seem harsh, it had the intended consequence of fostering the development of private Internet providers. In 1987 the UUNET became the first commercial Internet provider, offering service to Unix computers. Three years later, in 1990, The Worldthe first commercial provider of dial-up accessbegan operating, and computer scientists at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, invented Archie, the first Internet search engine for finding computer files.

An Internet for Everyone

In 1991 Tim Berners-Lee (1955) of the Conseil Europe´ en pour la Recherche Nucle´ aire (CERN; European Organization for Nuclear Research), which is located in Switzerland, introduced the three technologies that would give rise to the World Wide Web. The first of Berners-Lee's technologies was the Web browser, a program that allowed a user to jump from one server computer on the Internet to another. The second was the hypertext markup language (HTML), which was a programming language for creating Web pages with links to other Web pages and graphics. The third was the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), a command used by the browser to retrieve the HTML information contained on the server's Web site. In concert, these three innovations led to the World Wide Web as it became known in the early twenty-first century. On his server, Berners-Lee created the first Web site at CERN in 1990. Even though this site is no longer active, an early screen shot of Berners-Lee's Web browser may be accessed at As the technology spread, many more Web servers and sites quickly came into being. Maurice de Kunder (October 16, 2008, estimates that by October 2008 the World Wide Web contained 26.8 billion pages.

With Berners-Lee's invention, people were no longer required to use complex computer codes or sift through cryptic directories to retrieve information from other computers on the Internet. To reach a server with a Web site, a user with the browser simply has to type in the name of a server along with the HTTP command (e.g., The browser then contacts a DNS server to get the IP address of the server. Once the browser connects with the Web site, the browser then sends out the HTTP command. The HTTP tells the server to send the browser the HTML code for the specified Web site. On receiving the HTML code, the browser deciphers the code and simply displays the Web page on the user's computer (e.g., Yahoo's home page).

At the same time that these strides were being made in establishing the Internet, the U.S. government took a more active role in its development. In 1991 Senator Albert Gore Jr. (1948; D-TN) introduced the U.S. High Performance Computing Act into Congress. The act set aside more than $2 billion for further research into computing and to improve the infrastructure of the Internet. Though most of it was earmarked for large agencies such as the NSF and NASA, some of the funds were placed into the hands of independent software developers.

Marc Andreessen (1972) developed the Mosaic X Web browser in 1993 using a federal grant received through this act. The browser was one of the first commercial browsers to employ the HTML program language and the HTTP, and it became the first browser to be embraced by the general public. It was easy to set up, simple to use, and backed by a full customer support staff. It displayed images in an attractive way and contained many of the standard features used on present-day Web browsers, such as the address prompt and Back and Forward buttons. Tens of thousands of copies of Mosaic X were sold.

Once Mosaic X became popular, more and more Web sites employing HTML and HTTP were posted. According to the Internet historian Robert H. Zakon, in Hobbes' Internet Timeline v8.2 (November 1, 2006,, in June 1994 there were 2,738 Web servers; by June 1995 there were an estimated 23,500, and by June 1996 an estimated 252,000 Web servers were active. According to Zakon, growth in hosts, or computers with a unique IP address, during the same period reflected an increase from 3.2 million in July 1994 to 6.6 million in July 1995 and 12.9 million in July 1996. The Web was growing at such a rapid rate that the NSF created the Internet Network Information Center (InterNIC) as an agency to handle domain names. InterNIC contracted with Network Solutions to handle domain registration. By 1995 the companies that ran the older dial-up services for home users, such as CompuServe, AOL, and Prodigy, brought their clients to the Internet and offered Internet service for all. Internet network providers, such as MCI and Qwest, began laying fiber-optic cables and communications networks at a breakneck pace. Advertising appeared on the Web for the first time (the first banner being for the alcoholic beverage Zima), e-shopping appeared on the Internet, and many companies such as Netscape went public. In the following years the Internet gained a firm foothold in American life. As of July 2008, the nonprofit Internet Systems Consortium (ISC; estimated the number of Internet hosts at 570.9 million.

Digital Divide

Even though the Internet swept into U.S. households at a faster rate than almost any other technology, many people were still not connected to the Internet well after the turn of the twenty-first century. Table 1.3, which reflects poll data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project (Pew/ Internet), shows computer and Internet adoption among American adults between 2000 and 2007 and indicates that as of December 2007, 25% of American adults still did not classify themselves as Internet users. Table 1.4 shows the

TABLE 1.3 Computer and Internet use by adults, selected years 200007
source: Adapted from Usage over Time, Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2008, (accessed July 15, 2008). Used by permission of the Pe w Internet & American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on analysis of the data.
Use a computer62%69%73%75%73%76%
Wo men60%68%72%74%73%76%
Use the Internet46%58%63%73%71%75%
Wo men44%56%61%71%70%74%
Used the Internet yesterday60%57%55%66%69%72%
Wo men57%55%53%64%65%72%
TABLE 1.4 Adult Internet users, by selected characteristics, October December 2007
source: Demographics of Internet Users, in Latest Trends, Pew Internet & American Life Project, February 15, 2008, trends/User_Demo_2.15.08.htm (accessed June 27, 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.
 Use the Internet
Total adults 75%
Women 74
Men 76
1829 92%
3049 85
5064 72
65+ 37
White, non-Hispanic76%
Black, non-Hispanic56
English-speaking Hispanic79
Urban 77%
Suburban 77
Rural 64
Household income
Less than $30,000/year61%
Educational attainment
Less than high school38%
High school67
Some college84

demographic differences that existed between those connected to the Internet and those who were not. The biggest discrepancies were in age, income, and educational attainment; those in typically disadvantaged demographics had the least exposure to the Internet. Without the Internet at their disposal, people in these demographic segments can become even more disadvantaged. Not only are they disconnected from e-mail, which has become a common form of communication, but also they do not benefit from online services such as employment Web sites and research resources that many users take for granted.

A divide exists as well between those with faster, broadband connectivity and those whose older equipment and slow connection speeds make it difficult to access many functions of the Internet. In Why It Will Be Hard to Close the Broadband Divide (August 1, 2007,, John B. Horrigan of the Pew/Internet notes that as of February 2007 only 47% of U.S. Internet users had a broadband connection at home, a rate that placed the United States fifteenth out of twenty industrialized countries ranked annually by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Americans who did not have a broad-band connection included non-Internet users as well as those who accessed the Internet using a dial-up modem, either by choice or because broadband was unavailable in the area in which they lived. Horrigan describes non-Internet users as disproportionately old and poor, with a median age (half were older and half were younger) of fifty-nine years; one out of four non-Internet users in 2007 had a household income of below $20,000 per year. In addition, people in this group often expressed negative views of the Internet, including concerns about information overload and the dangers associated with being online. Horrigan suggests that closing this digital divide will be difficult because many older Americans, especially those with limited incomes, do not value high-speed Internet service. Even among Internet users who currently had dial-up service, many were content to remain with the slower connection because of its lower cost and greater availability.

Wealth and Education

Wealth lies at the heart of this digital divide. Ninety-three percent of the people in households that made over $75,000 in December 2007 reported they used the Internet, compared to 61% of people who lived in households earning less than $30,000 per year. (See Table 1.4.) Internet use increased in both groups between 2000 and 2007, but the gap between the groups showed only marginal improvement. The Pew/Internet reveals in Who's Not Online: 57% of Those without Internet Access Say They Do Not Plan to LogOn (September 21, 2000, http://www that 31% in the lowest income bracket used the Internet, whereas 78% of those in the highest bracket were online at that time.

Differences also exist in how varying income groups use the Internet. In Online Banking 2006: Surfing to the Bank (June 14, 2006, PIP_Online_Banking_2006.pdf), Susannah Fox and Jean Beier of the Pew/Internet report that in 2005, 29% of those making $30,000 or less annually banked online, whereas 55% of those making $75,000 and over said they banked online. Surprisingly, Lee Rainie and Jeremy Shermak note in Data Memo: Search Engine Use (November 2005, _1105.pdf) that wealthier households used search engines more as well. Less than one-third (29%) of online Americans with annual household incomes in the lowest bracket used a search engine daily, as opposed to 52% in the highest bracket. However, those with lower incomes relied on online dating services more. In Online Dating (March 5, 2006, _Online_Dating.pdf), Mary Madden and Amanda Lenhart of the Pew/Internet report that 14% of wired Americans making under $30,0000 a year described themselves as online daters, compared to 9% of those having incomes over $75,000.

Along with most consumer trends in the United States, wealth and education typically go hand in hand. Internet use is no exception. Table 1.4 indicates that only 38% of people with less than a high school education in 2007 used the Internet, whereas 93% of college graduates went online. Americans with a good deal of education used the Internet in much the same way as those with high incomes. Pew/Internet data indicate that college graduates preferred to go online more to bank, trade stocks, and make reservations than did those with less education.


Age is the third major factor that plays a role in who uses the Internet. As can be seen in Table 1.4, Internet usage was lower for older Americans in 2007 than it was for those under age sixty-five. Eighty-five percent of those aged thirty to forty-nine used the Internet, which was nearly as much as those aged eighteen to twenty-nine (92%). Seventy-two percent of those aged fifty to sixty-four were online. However, Internet usage fell off sharply for those over the age of sixty-five. Only 37% of people in this age bracket were wired. The reason for lower Internet usage in this age bracket is fairly obvious: The Internet was neither available at home nor common in the workplace until the late 1990s, when many of those in their seventies and eighties had already left the workforce. Many of these people had long ago adopted other ways to do their work, get directions, and look up information and have never felt the need to go online.

Seniors who did go online generally used the Internet less than younger people. Joseph Carroll of the Gallup Organization reports in Internet Catches More of Americans' Time (January 10, 2006, that only 36% of Internet users aged sixty to sixty-nine and 18% of users aged seventy to seventy-nine were on the Internet at least an hour per day. Fifty-eight percent of online Americans aged thirty to thirty-nine found themselves online at least an hour per day. Carroll notes that seniors also engaged in different activities on the Internet than younger people. Predictably, a significantly lower percentage of seniors relative to other age groups downloaded music from the Internet, bought items at an online auction, or banked online. However, all these percentages are expected to change significantly over time, as new generations become retirees. Young and middle-aged Internet users are expected to continue using the Internet at the volume they do today and may even spend more of their time after retirement online.

Sean Elder asserts in Turn on, Tune in, Link up: Boomers Are Closing the Digital Divide Online (AARP Bulletin Today, April 2008) that in 2008 the overall growth in online participation was already invalidating the notion of a digital divide, or gray gap'tech-savvy kids on one side and geezers asking, How does this thing work? on the other. According to Elder, older Internet users often have the same reasons for going online as their younger counterparts, including communicating with friends and family, making travel plans, accessing news and information, and pursuing hobbies. However, there continued to be differences in how various generations use the Internet. For example, senior Internet users were more likely than younger users to visit online pharmacies, to log on to horseracing or golf sites, and to seek medical and financial information online.

Race and Ethnicity

Variations in Internet usage between different races and ethnicitieswhile not as dramatic as differences between different age and income groupsremain significant. In 2007 whites and English-speaking Hispanics were roughly on par with one another in terms of Internet usage at 76% and 79%, respectively, with African-Americans lagging somewhat behind at 56%. (See Table 1.4.) However, most researchers agree that the differences noted among racial and ethnic groups are influenced more by English proficiency, economic level, and education than by race itself. In Latinos Online (March 14, 2007, http://, Susannah Fox and Gretchen Livingston of the Pew/Internet compare usage rates in 2006 by race and ethnicity, education level, and income. The researchers find that a similar proportion of African-American (93%), white (86%), and Hispanic (89%) college graduates used the Internet. (See Figure 1.4.) Hispanics who were foreign-born or who used Spanish as their first language were less likely to go online than those who were born in the United States or who primarily spoke English. Fewer than one-third (32%) of Spanish-dominant Hispanics went online in 2006, compared to more than three-quarters (78%) of English-dominant Hispanics. African-Americans aged seventy-one and older were the least likely to use the Internet, with 7% reporting that they go online at least occasionally or send/receive e-mail at least occasionally.

The type of activities people pursue on the Internet also varies somewhat by race and ethnicity. The Pew/ Internet indicates in Usage over Time (2008, http://www that in 2007 African-Americans were significantly less likely than whites or Hispanics to make an online purchase such as books, clothing, or toys, with just 49% reporting that they had ever done so, compared to 73% of white and 70% of Hispanic Internet users. Survey responses in 2007 indicated that white (37%) and African-American (36%) Internet users were more likely to seek financial information such as stock prices or mortgage rates online than were Hispanic (25%) Internet users. African-Americans were the least likely to seek medical or health information online in 2007, with 65% reporting that they had done so, compared to 76% of white and 71% of Hispanic Internet users.

Twenty-nine percent of white Internet users reported having taken part in an online auction, compared to just 15% each of African-American and Hispanic survey respondents. Hispanics were the most likely to have downloaded music to their computer to listen to at a later time; 48% of Hispanics had downloaded music in 2007, compared to 40% of African-Americans and 34% of whites.


Differences in gender were not so apparent when looking at the number of overall users in 2007. Seventy-six percent of the adult male U.S. population were online, as opposed to 74% of women. (See Table 1.4.) The real differences came in how the two genders used the Internet.

According to the Pew/Internet, in Usage over Time, in 2007 men (42%) were much more likely than women (30%) to go online to seek financial information, to download music to listen to at a later time (42% and 33%, respectively), and to download video (35% and 20%, respectively). Women (81%) were more likely than men (68%) to look up health information. When it came to online communication in 2007, women (93%) used e-mail slightly more than men (91%).

Community Type

Internet usage also diverges according to the type of community in which people live. Even though urban and suburban Internet usage was at 77%, rural Internet usage reached only 64% in 2007. (See Table 1.4.) Researchers note that those living in the rural areas of the United States tend to be older, less educated, and less wealthy than their urban and suburban counterparts, and these factors likely contribute to the lower percentage of Internet use. In addition, in some cases infrastructure limitations reduce online usage. In Data Memo: Rural Broadband Internet Use (February 2006,, John Horrigan and Katherine Murray of the Pew/Internet report that in 2005 Internet users living in rural areas were less likely than suburban or urban users to make travel reservations online, conduct banking online, use online classifieds, and read blogs. (See Table 1.5.) However, rural users were

TABLE 1.5 Online activities of poll respondents, by community type, 2005
source: John Horrigan and Katherine Murray, Online Activities, in Data Memo: Rural Broadband Internet Use, Pew Internet & American Life Project, February 2006, Broadband.pdf (accessed June 30, 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.
Percent in each group who
have ever done activity
 Rural Internet
Urban & suburban
Internet users
Buy or make a reservation for travel servicec51%65%
Bank onlinec3443
Online classifiedsa3037
Read a blogc2128
Download screensaversb2822
Download computer gamesb2520
Class for creditd1511
Fantasy sportsa97
aDenotes the project's March 2005 survey of 2,201 adults (1,450 Internet users).
bDenotes the project's May 2005 survey of 2,001 adults (1,336 Internet users).
cDenotes the project's September 2005 survey of 2,251 adults (1,577 Internet users).
dDenotes the projects December 2005 survey of 3,011 adults (1,931 Internet users).

more likely than those living in more populated areas to download screensavers and computer games, take a class for credit, and participate in a fantasy sports league. Horrigan and Murray suggest that it is possible some of the differences in Internet use may be carry-overs to the internet of some characteristics embedded in rural life. For example, the researchers note that in general rural inhabitants make fewer travel purchases than those who live close to metropolitan air and rail hubs, and for many in remote areas meeting with local bankers is part of a going to town routine that persists even if online banking is available.

Future of Computing and the Internet

For many the Internet has become an essential part of everyday life, and people increasingly want to be able to log on to the Internet from any location, in private or public spaces. It is therefore not surprising that more Americans are turning to wireless technologies. According to Horrigan, in a data memo (May 2004, http://, 28% of American adults were using either laptop computers with wireless modems or cell phones that enabled them to surf the Web or check e-mail in 2004. Horrigan also reports that 18% of Internet users in the United States said they had used a wireless laptop to access the Internet, and 10% said they had gone online from a location other than home. Updating this research in 2007, Horrigan reports in Wireless Internet Use (February 2007, less.Use.pdf) that by December 2006, 39% of online Americans accessed the Internet using a laptop computer, and 34% of American adults had logged onto the Internet using a wireless connection either from home, work, or some other place. Fifty-six percent of wireless users were men, compared to 44% who were women. (See Table 1.6.) In addition, eight out of ten (79%) of wireless users were under age fifty, and seven out of ten (72%) had at least some college education. Two-thirds (67%) were white.

The number of wireless hotspots has risen in response to increasing demand. The advertising network JiWire, which compiles an industry directory, indicates that the number of wireless Internet hotspots in the world surpassed the one-hundred-thousand mark in early 2006. According to JiWire (October 13, 2008,, wireless Internet locations increased from 53,779 hotspots in 93 countries in 2005 to 231,480 in 135 countries by October 2008. The leading countries included the United States (65,937), the United Kingdom (28,116), France (22,924), Germany (14,315), and South Korea (12,817). New York (1,069), Seattle (864), Chicago (837), San Francisco (824), and Houston (600) were the U.S. cities with the largest number of hotspots in 2008.

TABLE 1.6 Wireless and other Internet users, by selected characteristics,2006
source: John Horrigan, Demographic Profile of 34% of Internet Users Who Have Logged on to the Internet Using a Wireless Device, in Data Memo: Wireless Internet Access, Pew Internet & American Life Project, February 2007, (accessed June 30, 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.
 Wireless usersAll other Internet Users
White (not Hispanic) Black (not Hispanic) Hispanic (English speaking)6779
Black (not Hispanic)127
Hispanic (English speaking)148
Less than high school68
High school grad2234
Some college3026
Student (full or part-time)1912
Under $30K1423
Over $75K3420
Don't know/refused2120
Online access
Has broadband at home8053
Number of cases243555

Increasing Mobile Connectivity

Despite these numbers, however, wireless access to the Internet outside of the house is typically slow or spotty because of the limited 150- to 300-foot (46- to 91-m) range of wireless fidelity (WiFi) hotspots and the slow speed of dial-up modems. Regardless, several emerging technologies allow people to access high-speed Internet on their laptops wherever they go. Worldwide interoperability for microwave access (WiMAX) uses base station transmitters much like those in a mobile phone network. Any laptop computer equipped with a WiMAX receiver should be able to instantly log on to one of these stations and receive high-speed Internet access up to 30 miles (48 km) away. With enough transmitters in place, logging on anywhere in a city with high-speed access could soon be as easy as it is at home.

Another technology on the market is high-speed third-generation (3G) cell phone service. This service allows cell phones to receive and send signals that contain much more information than standard cellular phone signals, enabling 3G cell phone users to access and download information and video from the Internet at speeds approaching those of a cable modem. As of 2008, most major cellular operators in the United States were offering 3G service to their customers in metropolitan areas, and devices such as the Apple 3G iPhone and Samsung Instinct were making multifunction smart phones relatively affordable. Proving consumer demand for such products, the Apple 3G iPhone, which combined 3G phone, Internet, personal data, and music capabilities in one device, sold more than one million units in three days following its release in July 2008.


In the long term, however, the future of the Internet will likely be the Internet2. Internet2 is not a new Internet, but a collaboration of dozens of academic institutions

and corporations working together to develop technologies that will be integrated into the Internet. One project the consortium was testing in 2008 was version six of the Internet protocol (IPv6). The number of computers, cell phones, and other devices using the Internet has grown exponentially in recent years. Each time one of these devices logs on to the Internet, it requires its own address. In 2008 the Internet protocol only allowed for a little more than four billion addresses, which will soon be insufficient to accommodate all users. IPv6 introduces a new Internet address system that will allow for trillions upon trillions of new addresses. With such a network, Americans should be able to watch high-definition television via the Internet, teleconference with associates and family at any time, and easily access entire libraries of music and books online.

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