Friday, February 06, 2009

The Online Generational Divide...

The stereotype of the American teenager running rampant on the internet while their oblivious, dinosaur-like parents still don't "get" Facebook may have officially become a myth.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has just released a new research study on internet demographics. It finds that larger percentages of older Americans are not only getting online, but participating in more activities once they're logged on.

Contrary to the image of Generation Y as the "Net Generation," internet users in their 20s do not dominate every aspect of online life. Generation X is the most likely group to bank, shop, and look for health information online. Boomers are just as likely as Generation Y to make travel reservations online. And even Silent Generation internet users are competitive when it comes to email (although teens might point out that this is proof that email is for old people).

As with other Pew studies, many of the results aren't all that surprising. This particular project found that:

  1. Teens and Generation Y find entertainment and use social networks online more than any other demographic group.

  2. Older generations use the internet more as a tool for research, shopping and banking, and less for socializing and entertainment.

  3. Video downloads, online travel reservations, and work-related research are now pursued more equally by young and old.

What's interesting about some of these statistics is that, as each generation is using the internet primarily for different activities, their perceptions as to what the internet IS begin to differ as well. For example, Gen X professionals not only use the Web primarily as a research and information-gathering tool, but perceive it as such. To them, the internet is simply an engine of efficiency. Meanwhile, teens and Gen Y'ers who use it primarily for entertainment and social networking will actually perceive the internet as an integral component of their personal lives, and a venue in its own right for behavior and personal interactions.

Believe it or not, there will be serious policy consequences down the road based on how Americans - specifically, blocs of voting Americans - fundamentally conceive of the internet. These perceptions definitely matter. As time rolls along, it will be interesting to see if the younger generations of today adapt their views as they get older and enter the workforce, or whether they will bring their potentially transformative views along with them.


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