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Lee Rainie is the director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. According to the project's mission statement, "The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the Internet through collection of data and analysis of real-world developments as they affect the virtual world."
I was pleased to hear Rainie recently as he talked about the wide range of interactive online activities and applications now available. These would include, blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, podcasts, broadband and cell phones, just to name a few.
The project has developed a 10-level typology for Internet users who range from completely connected and absorbed with these new features, to those who are reluctant at best to even use the Internet.
At the top are the Omnivores, consisting of 8 percent of American adults. Members of this group are online constantly. They blog, they have created personal Web pages; they remix digital content and can be found in cyberspace on a daily basis.
At the bottom are the 15 percent of American adults who are off the network. They have neither cell phones nor Internet connectivity. Members of this group tend to be older adults who are content with old media.
Perhaps more importantly, the 10 levels of the typology can be divided into three sub groups:
At the top (which includes the Omnivores) are the Elite Tech Users. This includes 31 percent of American adults. All in this group have strong positive views about how technology lets them keep up with others, do their jobs and learn new things.
The middle group is aptly titled, "Middle-of-the-road Tech Users." You'll find 20 percent of Americans in this group. It includes those who use all the functionality of their cell phones as well as those who have invested a lot in technology but find the connectivity intrusive and the great amount of information burdensome.
At the bottom, besides the Off the Network group, are three other groups which share reluctance where technology is concerned. This group is named, "Few Tech Assets" and consists of 49 percent of the American adult population. Members of this group occasionally take advantage of technology. Most own some technology, but they don't use it very much and don't like it very much.
To find out how you rank, go to the Pew Internet site (www.pewinternet.org/index.asp) and click on the link on the left under, "The Internet Typology Test."
Of course I was interested in the implications of all of this for libraries. First of all, I thought it was significant that fully 49 percent of American adults have little technology or don't fully utilize what they have.
Here in the suburbs of Chicago, it is hard for me to imagine that nearly half the people are not very well connected to the electronic world. Then I remembered that these are national statistics. It's probably a lot less than 49 percent in this area. But I also know that in the libraries around here, there is still a strong demand for the traditional library services: books, magazines and summer reading programs for kids.
My second realization is that 51 percent of the population is pretty connected. Another statistic shared by Rainie was that 55 percent of teens have profiles on a social networking site. Couple that with the fact that so many electronic devices are wireless and wireless connectivity is becoming ubiquitous and you can see that libraries have a lot of work to just to keep in the loop.
Statistically speaking there is still a need for traditional library services, but more than half of the American adult population is connected and increasing its usage every day.