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Digital Project Updates Internet Trends

Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication

Photo/Maggie Smith

The 2008 report on the Digital Future Project has identified several sobering trends in views about individuals going online � in particular in adults’ opinions about Internet use by children.

“In general, opinions about the Internet remain overwhelmingly positive,” said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. “But after seven years of tracking the impact of the Internet, we are also 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 report found that:

� The percentage of adults who said that the children in their households spend too much time using the Internet reached 25 percent of respondents, an increase for the third year in a row and the highest percentage yet reported in the seven years of Digital Future Project studies.
� A small percentage of adults (13 percent) 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.
� More than half of adults (53 percent) said that online predators are a threat to the children in their households. Only 24 percent of adults with children in their household disagreed with that statement.
� Almost two-thirds of adults (63 percent) are uncomfortable with the children in their households participating in online communities. Only 15 percent of adults are comfortable with children participating in online communities.

The Digital Future Project is an annual, comprehensive study that has been conducted since 2000 on the impact of online technology in America.

The project surveys more than 2,000 individuals across the United States, each year contacting the same households to explore how online technology affects the lives of Internet users and non-users. It also examines how changing technology, such as the shift from Internet access by modem to broadband, affects behavior.

In spite of some shifting views among adults about children and the Internet, the overall responses continue to supply a broad range of strongly positive views about the benefits of Internet use � especially about its value as an information source and its growing use for involvement in online communities.

The Digital Future Project found that the Internet is perceived by users to be a more important source of information over all other principal media, including television, radio, newspapers and books.

Eighty percent of Internet users age 17 and older consider the Internet to be an important source of information for them � up from 66 percent in 2006 � and higher than television (68 percent), radio (63 percent) and newspapers (63 percent).

The project found that membership in online communities has more than doubled in only three years. More than half of online community members (54 percent) log into their community at least once a day, and 71 percent of members said their community is very important or extremely important to them. Fifty-six percent of members reported meeting their online counterparts in person.

The study found that participation in online community membership has particularly dramatic effects on participation in social causes. Three-quarters of online community members said they use the Internet to participate in communities related to social causes, with 40 percent saying that they use the Internet at least monthly to participate in such communities. Eighty-seven percent of online community members are participating in social causes that are new to them since their involvement in online communities began.

And a large and growing percentage of members � now 55 percent � said that they feel as strongly about their online communities as they do about their real-world communities.

“Clearly, 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,” Cole said.

“The emergence of online communities is demonstrating that opportunities to be involved in common projects and idea sharing about any subject we choose and with people anywhere on Earth is possible and practical,” he added.

Meanwhile, the project found a range of contrasting views about the impact of the Internet in the political process.

For example, almost two-thirds of users (64 percent) agree that the Internet has become important for political campaigns, and more than half of users age 16 or older (55 percent) said that using the Internet allows people to better understand politics.

However, even as the Internet’s role in political campaigning and candidate communication has increased dramatically, only small numbers of users believe that the Internet is a catalyst for political change. Less than one-quarter of users (22 percent) believe that the Internet is a tool to encourage public officials to care more about what people think, while only 28 percent 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 percent for two years.

Digital Project Updates Internet Trends

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