The Internet’s a tool for oldies and a toy for youngsters

December 5, 2011

The Internet's a tool for oldies and a toy for youngstersIf you’re aged 18 to 29, you’ll probably be going online at some point today just to kill time or have a bit of fun. That’s one of the findings of a new survey that suggests the older you are, the more productive your use of the web.

The latest figures from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project show that 74 percent of adults, and 81 percent of youngsters, have at some point gone online “just for fun or to pass the time.” That’s hardly shocking and in reality the figure is much higher as 22 percent of those questioned say they don’t use the Internet, not even occasionally. That leaves just four percent of adults who’ve used the internet, but for whom it’s serious business all the way.

When it comes to age, there’s also a clear pattern. Asked if they used the net for fun “yesterday”, the proportions saying yes were 53 percent for those aged 18-29, 37 percent for those aged 30 to 49, 27 percent for those aged 50 to 64 and 12 percent for those aged 65 or older. Bear in mind again this is distorted a little by the fact that the older groups may well have more non-Internet users to start with. It’s also a self-defining question, so it’s possible that younger people may see social networking as fun or a time killer, while older people see staying in touch as a productive activity.

There’s also a historical trend. Aside from an unexplained dip in 2005, the percentage of people who say they’ve used the net for fun in a corresponding survey has increased every year since 2000. Part of that it of course the simple increase in the percentage who use the internet at all, but other explanations could include more widespread adoption of Internet access at home rather than just work, wider use of mobile devices where “non-fun” activities are less convenient, and faster internet speeds which makes activities such as aimless YouTube watching more feasible.

There is also a caveat about the way the results for a “typical day” are calculated each year. The surveys are carried out over the course of a month, with each respondent asked about their activities the day before. This means results could be distorted if there’s not an even breakdown of the days of the week when the question is posed: people asked on a Sunday or Monday are inherently more likely to have been using the net for fun the previous day.

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