Understanding Digitally-Connected Adults: Insights from PEW

Why did my aunt join Facebook and why does she always post listicles and click-bait from BuzzFeed?

Are her emotional triggers just that easy to pull?

It’s because she makes up just one of the millions of blips that ‘LIKE’ BuzzFeed on Facebook. It’s because she’s part of their target audience.

But that makes her not part of mine.

Maybe it’s the absurdly repulsive headlines or the extreme need for proofreading and editing advice, but it’s rare that I’ll ever click. Now I’m part of the gang that does not ‘LIKE’ BuzzFeed and that gang is, of course, going to be naturally interesting to BuzzFeed. As it goes with most viral-publishing sites, they want to appeal to largest market possible and I have no doubt their research and analytics team is stellar.

But it’s the game itself of cat and mouse with digital content that peaks the interest of most social media marketers; the relationship between users and publishers.

Until recently, the verdict has been out as to whether the availability of information via the Internet has crushed our ability to take in new information by overwhelming us, or, whether it has supported our ability to learn new things. The Pew Research Center set out to clear things up by surveying a large number of Internet users to determine whether the Internet aids in the ability to learn new things or simply overwhelms users.

understanding digital adults

The Survey Itself

Conducted from Sept. 12-18, 2014, the Pew Research Center’s study surveyed 1,066 Internet users from America. All respondents were adults over the age of 18.

The broad findings of the study indicate that average Americans and students are better informed because of the availability of information offered by the Internet. Broken down further:

  • 76 percent of those surveyed believe that Internet access has allowed average Americans to be better informed, while 8 percent believe it has made them less informed.
  • 77 percent of those surveyed believe the Internet has made students more well-informed, while 8 percent believe they have been made less informed.

An overview of other results is presented in the graph below:

pew internet digital tech

Some of the more remarkable takeaways from the study include:

  • Adults who spend time online are less knowledgeable about local happenings.
  • Internet users make well-informed purchases.
  • Collaboration is easier than ever.

Adults Who Spend Time Online are Less Knowledgeable About Local Happenings

While Internet users are more well-informed about world and pop-culture happenings, thanks to the availability of information at their fingertips, they’re less likely to know what’s happening in their immediate surroundings. In fact, just 39 percent of those surveyed feel better informed about their neighborhood and neighbors and only 49 percent feel more well-informed about local civic activities.

While the answer to why these numbers are lower than others cannot be found through this survey, it may point to the fact that advertising online can be too much of an expense for local companies and organizations to compete with larger, national competitors. To learn more about nearby activities and events, Internet users could consider more local searches and following local organizations on social media.

It can be taxing, tedious, and frankly boring to follow of your local businesses on Facebook and Twitter – we don’t want our town in our personal social spaces.

Internet Users Make Well-Informed Purchases

Online information relating to local happenings and events may be more difficult to come by; however, the Pew Research Center’s survey found that Internet users feel more well-informed about products and services than ever before. In theory, this should lead to more well-informed purchases.

81 percent of the survey’s respondents feel more well-informed than ever before on services and products to purchase, as demonstrated in the graphic above. Because online shopping allows Internet users to compare prices with a few clicks, sometimes even on the same screen, making well-informed purchases and finding great deals has never been easier.

The skeptic persona has always been around, but it manifests tenfold online. Comment sections and threads will surge whenever a crummy product or marketing scheme catches wind. And this is what makes Internet users smarter. They can usually trust majority favor on products and if that has a massive impact on brands. Think about how many Amazon products you neglected to purchase because of horror-story Amazon reviews or products you did purchase because of amazing reviews.

Collaboration Is Easier than Ever

Internet users are able to connect with others like never before. Due to the rise in social networks – more than two-thirds of adults who access the Internet use social networks – and the ability to connect with long-lost friends and acquaintances, this is probably not a surprise. However, these connections come with a broader, more positive implication: Internet users have the ability to collaborate in a way that simply wasn’t possible in the past.

According to the survey, 72 percent of respondents believe digital technologies have improved their ability to share ideas and creations with others, up from 55 percent in 2005. This means the days of coming up with ideas and wondering what to do next, or how to connect with the people necessary to take such ideas to the next level, are gone.

pew share ideas

Additionally this PEW study uncovered a rise in the notion that people feel digital technology helps their ability to share their own ideas and creations.  This supports collaboration efforts, especially in growing communities like subreddits and niche or trade forums.

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Jesse Aaron

I'm a blogger, homebrewer, and community manager. Aside from writing, I have a passion for music and design.

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