Survey: Americans hit Web for solutions

Survey: Americans hit Web for solutions

RESULTS CHANGE ACCORDING TO BROADBAND ACCESS

By Troy Wolverton / Mercury News
12/31/2007 01:39:14 AM PST

For many Americans, the Internet has become the great problem solver.

When facing a collection of conundrums, including health problems, tax
issues and schooling choices, U.S. citizens are more likely to head
online for help than to go to the library or consult family or experts,
according to a new survey from the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champagne and the Pew Internet & American Life Project. And
when they do, most are finding the information they need to solve their
problem, according to the survey.

"What was a novelty in the late ’90s for a lot of users has moved to
the center of their information universe," said Lee Rainie, Pew
Internet’s director. "That’s a very dramatic story of technology
adoption and impact in a short amount of time."

But not everyone is going online for help. Instead, the survey found
sharp divisions between Americans who have broadband access at home or
work and those who either have a dial-up connection or no access at all.

Americans who had broadband tended to use the Internet to help solve a
variety of problems, and it seemed to drive them to access other
information sources as well, including libraries, books and government
agencies.

In contrast, those without broadband – who generally are older, poorer
and less well educated than those with it – tended to report fewer
problems they needed to solve and to use far fewer community resources
in dealing with the issues they did have.

The importance of broadband access for the
former group has little to do with the speed that data travels through
a broadband connection, Rainie said. Instead, it’s more about being
able to access the Internet easily and immediately, he said.

"Once
you get broadband, you see what’s available and pursue more of what’s
available," Rainie said. "The Internet has taught people to be even
more hungry about information and to be even more aggressive about
hunting it down in a variety of places."

The survey asked people whether they had encountered in the past two
years any of 10 particular issues that might require government help or
information. It then asked those who answered "yes" what resources they
used to deal with the issue.

Although the Internet wasn’t the first choice for each individual problem, it was for six of the 10.

Some 77 percent of respondents, for instance, said they used the
Internet to get information about schooling or job training. Likewise,
some 66 percent of people seeking information about retirement or
starting their own business went online, as did 64 percent of those who
had a problem they wanted addressed by their local government such as a
traffic issue.

For some issues, though, respondents continued to rely on more
traditional sources of information. With health and legal problems,
Americans were most likely to seek advice from experts in the field.
And those who needed information on or had problems with Social
Security or Medicare were most likely to go directly to the agencies
overseeing those programs.

Regardless of the method they used to solve their problems, Americans
were generally happy with the results. Among those who went online, for
instance, 63 percent said that they were "very successful" in
addressing their issue.

That was nearly indistinguishable from the portion of those who turned
to experts, went to the library or contacted a government office or
agency.

Contact Troy Wolverton at twolverton@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5021.

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