The Digital Future Through The Looking Glass

The 2008 Digital Future Project, conducted by the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, has identified several sobering trends in views about going online, particularly in adults' opinions about Internet use by children. Adults who said that the children in their households spend too much time using the Internet reached 25% of respondents, an increase for the third year in a row and the highest percentage yet reported.

Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future, said "... after seven years of tracking the impact of the Internet, we are... seeing evolving trends which show that adults view some aspects of going online by children to be as troubling as their use of other media, or even potentially dangerous."

The 2008 Digital Future Project found that:

  • 13%  of adults said that the children in their households spend less time with friends, but that percentage increased for the third year in a row, another new high for the Digital Future Project.
  • The number of adults who said that the grades of the children in their household has declined since the household started to use the Internet has grown for the second year in a row.
  • In the 2008 study, 53% of adults said that online predators are a threat to the children in their households. Only 24%  of adults with children in their household disagreed with that statement.
  • 63% of adults are uncomfortable with the children in their households participating in online communities. Only 15%of adults are comfortable with children participating in online communities.

In spite of some shifting views among adults about children and the Internet, the overall responses to the Digital Future Project supply a broad range of strongly positive views about the benefits of Internet use. 80% of Internet users age 17 and older consider the Internet to be an important source of information for them, up from 66% in 2006,  and higher than television (6%), radio (63%), and newspapers (63%).

The Project found that membership in online communities has more than doubled in only three years. 54% of online community members log into their community at least once a day, and 71% of members said their community is very important or extremely important to them. 56% of members reported meeting their online counterparts in person.

75% of online community members said they use the Internet to participate in communities related to social causes, with 40% saying that they use the Internet at least monthly to participate in such communities. 87% are participating in social causes that are new to them since their involvement in online communities began. And, 55% say they feel as strongly about their online communities as they do about their real-world communities.

Cole said "The growth of online communities is opening a range of opportunities for social connection, involvement and communication that could not have been anticipated even five years ago... demonstrating that opportunities... in common projects and idea sharing about any subject... anywhere on Earth is possible and practical."  

The Project found contrasting views about the impact of the Internet in the political process. 64$ of users agree that the Internet has become important for political campaigns, and 55% of users age 16 or older said that using the Internet allows people to better understand politics.

However, only small numbers of users believe that the Internet is a catalyst for political change: less than one-quarter Only 22% believe that the Internet is a tool to encourage public officials to care more about what people think, while only 28% agree that using the Internet gives people more of a say in what government does. And the percentage of users who said that the Internet gives people more political power has remained about 30% for two years.

Additional highlights from the Digital Future Project include:

  • The number of hours online per week continues to increase, to an average of 15.3 hours per week, the highest level in the Digital Future studies.
  • The 10 most popular online purchases are books, clothes, travel arrangements, gifts, CDs, videos, electronic goods, software/games, products for hobbies, and computers/peripherals.
  • In a new question for the 2008 Project, 16% of Internet users said they go online to find or check a fact at least daily, while 7% of users go online daily or more often to look up the definition of a word.
  • 21% of Internet users said that their home page is a search page more than double the response in 2005. Declining in the current study is the percentage of users who use an Internet portal, such as Yahoo, America Online, or MSN as their home page.
  • 47% of users, when asked where they go online after they log in, said that their next destination is their e-mail account.

In the current Project, these percentages of Internet users were involved in these activities at least weekly:

  • E-mail (96% )
  • Internet surfing without a specific destination (71%)
  • Looking for news online (60%)
  • Finding product information (43%)
  • Conducting online banking or other financial services (38%)
  • Instant messaging (37%)
  • Playing online games (35%)
  • Searching for humorous content (25%)

This Internet Annual Survey includes specific and expanded information on all of these additional topics, and more. To access the complete, pre-release highlights, please visit here.

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3 comments about "The Digital Future Through The Looking Glass".
  1. Brad Nimmons from Media General , December 25, 2008 at 10:06 p.m.

    I'm wondering if the "6%" as "an important source of information" for TV is a typo? If it isn't, I would question the veracity of just about all of this information. I've never seen television with a number that low.

  2. Chintamani Rao from Independent Marketing and Media Consultant , December 26, 2008 at 12:29 a.m.

    I couldnt swear by the actual number, but directionally that makes sense.

    First, the age cut is 17 and older. The lower age groups would skew the number strongly.

    Second, TV is where people typically go for entertainment, not to seek information. They do pick up information as they watch soaps, movies, sports, whatever, but that is collateral gain. Even TV news is more in the nature of a general update and keeping in touch with the environment than specific information seeking behaviour.

    See, on the other hand, how high "Looking for news online" (60%) and "Finding product information" (43%) rank in internet usage.

  3. Oded Levin from odedy , December 26, 2008 at 7:05 a.m.

    The only answer to the problem raised in this article is by using online age verification systems such as the biometric age verification online, in real-time, provided by VerificAge (www.verificage.com):
    - It establishes full segregation between adults and children online
    - Does not use any kind of data base. Eliminating risks involved in storing and maintaining data.
    - It does not identify the user personally but rather his/her age group category; therefore, the user’s privacy cannot be jeopardized.
    - The system is based on a “one time” biometric measurement that can distinguish a child from an adult with a very high accuracy rate.
    - It can assert a user’s age every time he wishes to access a website, content, or while interacting with others
    It seems that VerificAge’s solution is going to change the surfing culture on the Net and increase dramatically children’s safety online.