Internet use and sociability – USA

December 2004


The Stanford Center for the Quantitative Study of Society published the report Ten years after the birth of the Internet, how do Americans use the Internet in their daily lives? One particular finding has attracted commentators‘ attention: increasing online time reduces face-to-face time with family.

we were very interested to discover that the increase in Internet use over the last 10 years has eaten into television viewing less than expected. Time online seems to come more out of family discretionary time (Norman Nie, director of SIQQS)

This finding is taken to support the hypothesis that “increased Internet use reduces the time spent socializing and other activities”. This conclusion however runs against another significant finding, that is, that communication is the online activity people engage in most. Using the Internet seems to be reducing one form of communication, that is face-to-face, while augmenting other forms, i.e. Internet-mediated communications. This creates opportunities to extend face-to-face communication, as IM does both in the workplace and among teenagers; to expand one’s social networks (20% of the Internet users communicate with someone they have never met in person) and to bring new meanings to face-to-face encounters. Even if Internet use reducesd face-to-face sociability, it wouldn’t necessarily have a negative impact on overall socialbility.

June 2004
A representative sample of 4,839 18 to 64 year-old Americans was contacted and asked whether they had used the Internet the previous day. The 1,518 who had done so described the activities they had carried out at six, randomly selected, hours of that day, following the Time Diary methodology developed at SIQSS.

How long are Internet users online?
They spend a significant part of the day online, on average nearly 3 hours per day, of which one hour is spent at work.

In what activities do Internet users engage? 
Time online is mainly for communication: email, IM and chat take up 57% of the time spent online. Of this time, work-related communication accounts for a third; friends for nearly a third; family for about a sixth. Browsing time is shared between playing games (20.3%), surfing the web (15.4%), shopping and selling (10%), news (7.6%), work (6.9%) and planning travel (5.0%). Other activities account for less than 5.0% of the time spent browsing.

Does Internet use reduce TV watching?
On average, all respondents watched TV for 2 hours per day, whereas Internet users did so for one hour and 45 minutes. TV watching goes down and Internet use up among people with a Bachelor degree or higher, people between age 18 and 44,  and among students.

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