Internet increasingly used by average Americans

Thursday, October 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Jim Landers / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – A new survey finds Internet users are average John and Jane Does surfing the Web, using e-mail and buying items despite their wariness about credit card security.

The UCLA study, "Surveying the Digital Future," reports that two-thirds of all Americans now have access to the Internet, and use it without becoming cyber-hermits or otherwise letting it impede their social lives. They spend 28 percent less time watching television, however, than Americans who are not yet online.

"The people going online today are Mr. and Mrs. Average American. The Internet is mainstreaming," said Dr. Jeffrey Cole, director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy. "They spend an average of 9.4 hours a week on the Internet."

The study by the University of California, Los Angeles Internet Project is based on interviews with 2,096 households nationwide conducted in late spring.

The study was funded by National Science Foundation and 10 firms – including America Online Inc., Microsoft Corp., Sony Corp. and Walt Disney Co. – "with no control over our findings or methods," Dr. Cole said.

A U.S. Commerce Department study released last week using Census Bureau findings from 50,000 households found 116.5 million Americans – 44.4 percent – actually use the Internet.

The federal study, called "Falling Through the Net," predicted most Americans will be using the Internet by the middle of next year.

The department found that nearly half (47.9 percent) of all Texas households now have computers, and that 38.3 percent of the 7.353 million households in the state have Internet access.

Two years ago, less than 41 percent of Texas households had computers, and less than 25 percent had Internet access.

Neither the Commerce Department study nor the UCLA study found a gap between the sexes on Internet access and use, but the studies did find diminishing gaps between the rich and poor and ethnic and racial groups.

The UCLA study, for instance, found more girls than boys use the Internet between ages 12 and 15, and more women than men go online between ages 46 and 55.

Dr. Cole said the UCLA study's focus is less on how widespread access to the Internet is than on how it is changing – or not changing – behavior and attitudes. It is a less antisocial way to spend time than some stereotypes suggest, he said.

He said e-mail has increased communication among people who may not have been in contact at all before the Internet.

Last year there were 570 million electronic mailboxes worldwide, and users sent as many as 4 trillion e-mail messages. More than one-fourth of the e-mail users in the UCLA study said they have online friends they have never met.

"We now have international social networks," he said.

Most respondents said the Internet, thanks to e-mail, has increased their contact with family and friends.

Dr. Cole said Internet users and those who are not online spend about the same amount of time each week on the telephone and reading newspapers and books. The big difference, he said, involved television, where Internet users spend 4.6 hours a week less time watching.

Most parents (79 percent) said they were satisfied with the amount of time their kids are spending on the Internet, while 10 percent said they spent too little time online. Only 11.2 percent said their kids spend too much time on the Internet.

Parents say they aren't seeing much change in academic performance because of Internet use by their kids, however. The UCLA study found 70.5 percent of parents reported no change in grades, though 26.2 percent said they have seen an improvement.

Internet users and non-users alike say going online imperils privacy. Two-thirds of Internet users agreed that going online puts their privacy at risk, while 76.1 percent of those who do not use the Internet agreed.

The vast majority of Internet users (91.2 percent) are concerned about credit card security when it comes to buying online. Just over half (51.3 percent) of Internet users have bought something online, and about two-thirds of those buyers say it has reduced the amount of time they spend shopping in stores.

Nearly half of the Internet users in the UCLA study said they believe their employers monitor their use of e-mail and visits to Web sites. Even so, most said they access personal e-mail at work and visit Web sites for personal use. Almost 57 percent said they feel the Internet has made them more productive at work.

Dr. Cole compared those findings to the introduction of the telephone at work, which has made most workers more productive even though they sometimes use it for personal calls.