Yes, I believed it would be important to learn about the Internet, but I had another motivation for learning to create Web pages, use email and Instant Messenger. I lived in California, I had a girlfriend in Texas, and I was a poor college student. Every extra cent I had was going to buy stamps to send letters and pay for long-distance phone calls -- since a cell phone was out of my financial grasp as well.
My initial motivation for going online was simple. I did it for a girl. I welcomed the opportunity to communicate long-distance, in real-time, for free.
But my motivations for using the Internet have changed since then. Now, I use it for everything from work to shopping and paying bills to staying in touch with old friends.
Earlier this year, I wrote "The Fluid Nature of Gen Y's Media Habits," which looked at how media habits change as Gen Y consumers move through different life stages. I've since conducted new research (to be published next month) that looks at how the motivations fueling online activity change over time.
Shopping (22%) and looking for deals (20%)
While women are more likely than men to be motivated to go online to shop and find deals, there are dramatic changes that occur over time.
Shopping is a driver for 19% of female high school students, while searching out deals is a much lower priority (only 4% indicate this is a primary driver). Once women enter college, searching for deals in the form or coupons, discounts, and freebies increases in importance, becoming a primary motivator for 27% of female college students to go online. Finding deals is an even higher motivation for women who don't complete college (39%).
Men are less likely than women to be driven online to shop or search for deals in their high school and college years. However, this changes substantially as they enter the workforce. Armed with disposable income, finding deals online becomes a primary motivation for 50% of Gen Y male college graduates to go online.
Socializing with online friends (27%) and communicating with friends and family (55%)
Communicating with friends and family is the most common motivator for females to go online regardless of their life stage. Not so for the maintenance of "online friendships," which is a motivator for 42% of female high schoolers to go online compared to only 24% of female college students.
For men, socializing with online friends and communicating with friends and family becomes less prominent motivators as they age. For example, 59% of male high school students say communicating with friends and family is a primary reason for going online compared to only 28% of male college graduates who consider this a top motivation.
The importance of maintaining "online friendships" also decreases for men as the move from high school to college. However, after graduating college, the importance of maintaining online relationships surges as they shift their attention to building business contacts and keeping up with business trends.
Hunting for information (20%)
Some consumers are much more interested in getting information online than in interacting with others online. On average, Gen Y men are more likely to fit into this group, but this is because high school age females (7%) and women who don't graduate from college (18%) are unlikely to fit in this group.
In contrast, 18% of high school males consider themselves information consumers, and this trend increases steadily regardless of whether they attend college or not. 36% of men graduating from college and moving only professional careers are motivated to go online in order to "consume information." Only professional women with college degrees are more likely to go online primarily to find information (41%).
Earlier today, a friend told me, "It's much less important to look at a person's finger than where the finger is pointing." In short, it's not about what, but why. We are just scratching the surface, and we will be looking at even more motivators in the days ahead. I'm convinced that understanding why people go online, and how that changes over time, will open up many new and exciting opportunities.