Lee Rainie, founding director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, gave a morning keynote talk at IGF-USA 2011. Pew Internet is a non-profit, non-partisan “fact tank” that studies the social impact of the Internet. Since 1999 it has published more than 250 reports examining how people’s Internet uses influence their families, communities, health care, education, civic and political life and workplaces. All of this work is available for free on the Pew Research Center Website.
Details of the session:
The grass, it appears, isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. In the case of the American public’s perception of various Internet issues, there’s a notion that while individual digital access and experiences are progressing swimmingly, the conceptualization of the Internet as a whole is strikingly more negative.
This break in perception is dubbed “I’m OK, they’re not” by Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. As the lead of the non-partisan, self-proclaimed “fact-tank,” focused on reports gathering information on attitudes and activities online, Rainie sits at the heart of this contradiction.
In his keynote address at the Internet Governance Forum-USA, Rainie noted the persistence of “I’m OK, they’re not” throughout all aspects of society.
“It is a pretty common phenomenon in people’s evaluations of the world,” Rainie said. “They like their own congressman, but they don’t like Congress. They appreciate the school their children attend, but they think the education system is a mess. Our findings show they think their own use of the Internet is beneficial, but they are worried that others are not doing good things online and not getting good things out of their Internet use.”
A stagnant, thriving web
Accompanying these observations, Rainie cited statistics hinting that the standard perception of the Internet has reached a user saturation point, at least domestically. The number of Internet users in the United States has remained stagnant since 2008, never moving outside of the range of 75-79 percent. Broadband access has fluctuated only between 61-66 percent. The use of basic e-commerce has remained at about 70 percent of Internet users. And the blogging community has sat around 14 percent since 2007.
That’s not to suggest that stagnation in the Internet’s domestic reach and in certain areas of the digital world speaks for the web in its entirety.
“At the same time, other metrics show growth in some online behaviors,” Rainie said, listing social networking, job searches, video use, online phone calls and online banking as areas with particularly strong growth trends.
In addition, mobile access has continued to grow, with a recent Pew poll indicating that 59 percent of Americans are connected either through a smartphone or a laptop, and 25 percent of smartphone users use their device as their primary access point to the Internet.
Along with mobile growth comes the emergence of location-based services, with 6 percent of Americans online using check-in services, 9 percent allowing location awareness through social media and 32 percent of cell phone owners providing locational data in exchange for directions or recommendations.
Happiness is a warm modem
With the emergence of new digital entry points, public experiences with the Internet remain positive.
“In terms of their own use of the Internet, they don’t seem to have concerns about the way things are proceeding. To the degree that any ordinary users think about governance issues,” which Rainie admitted is probably not great, “they like what they have and they probably wouldn’t want it messed with.”
The individual, in his/her own immediate sphere, is pleased with the Internet. But there’s a paradox lurking alongside this placidity. Rainie’s keynote was, after all, titled, “I’m OK, They’re Not.” While studying American attitudes during the 2010 midterm elections, Pew found a series of inconsistencies.
A majority agreed that the Internet exposes people to a wide range of political views, but they find it difficult to disseminate those views and to discern which are true and which are false. A majority find the Internet makes it easier for them to connect to those with similar political views, but they also believe it provides a larger, and perhaps disproportionate, stage for those with radical views.
From this public belief that individual Internet experiences are positive, but can take a turn for the worse when drawn out to the whole of society, Rainie outlined three couplets of American, and arguably global, desires.
They want liberty and security. They want transparency and confidentiality. And they want free expression to be allowed to flourish, with concern paid to tolerance and civility.
The bipolarity, of sorts, is a clear implication for IGF and its hopes for multistakeholder discussion bringing about a universally-beneficial future for the Internet.
“The appeal of the Internet to most users comes from the panoply of possibilities it brings to their lives,” Rainie said, and the role of IGF is to figure out how to reconcile the duplicitous opinions of users and the multitude of stakeholders to ensure that appeal endures.
You can read Lee Rainie’s full script, posted on the Pew Internet site, by clicking here.
Click here to go to the main site used by the organizers of IGF-USA.
– Morgan Little
A selection of Twitter reports on this IGF-USA 2011 event:
“The appeal of the internet is the panoply of possibilities it brings. -Rainie #IGF11
Uptake of many Internet activities (blogs, news-readers, government site use, etc.) stagnant in the last few years. #IGF11-USA
“35% of American adults now have smartphones. 1/4 of them use them as their primary Internet device.” -Lee Rainie of Pew Internet #IGF11-USA
“59% of Americans get the Internet on the go, either with smartphones or laptops” @lrainie ##IGF11-USA
RT @netfreedom Here’s a link to the US Internet adoption graph just mentioned at #igf11-usa
“Users generally say they get what they want from the Internet.” -Rainie #IGF11-USA
@lrainie introduces the “I’m OK, they’re not” syndrome; people like what they have/do, but think greater systems are dysfunctional. #IGF11
“Americans want the best of the ‘I’m OK’ world, and protect from the ‘they’re not’ perspective. -Lee Rainie #IGF11
“Our findings show that people think their own use of the Internet is beneficial, but other users aren’t doing or finding good things.” #IGF11-USA
They make this complex set of judgments where they trust their own capacity to handle challenges, but are wary of others’ capabilities. #IGF11-USA
#IGF11_USA Americans appreciate more voices put in play, but don’t want harmful information to have more power in the market. –Rainie
#IGF11_USA 56% say difficult to tell what is true and not true and think others are struggling with problem even more. –Rainie
“The vast majority of Americans are now content creators – 2/3 of adults have created some type of media.” -Rainie #IGF11-USA
“For many, the Internet is appealing because the whole smorgasbord of things they do is supported by it.” -Rainie #IGF11-USA
“Some of you may recognize the mentality of Queen: ‘I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, I want it now.'” -Rainie #IGF11-USA
@lrainie tells #IGF2011-USA Americans want what Queen asks for at the start of this song
“Our job today and in Nairobi (Global IGF in Sept.) is to figure out how to make that Queen idea happen.” #IGF11-USA
Not that long ago, 2008, was the first campaign where the Internet was assumed to be a crucial part of running for office. -Lee Rainie #IGF11-USA
Americans rate privacy high value, but in behavior Americans are transactional concerning property and personal information. -Rainie #IGF11
People’s opinions on privacy are heavily dependent on circumstance. -Rainie #IGF11-USA
“54% of online adults say that the Internet makes it easier to connect with others who share the same political views” @lrainie #IGF11-USA
Q-A after talk w Rainie – Young adults see value in sharing, since they can get more FB friends and it hasn’t come back and bitten them…yet #IGF11-USA
The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2011 included the following Elon University students and alumni: Jeff Ackermann, Natalie Allison, Ronda Ataalla, Ashley Barnas, Joe Bruno, Kristen Case, Lianna Catino, Nicole Chadwick, Kellye Coleman, Colin Donohue, Steven Ebert, Jeff Flitter, Anna Johnson, Elizabeth Kantlehner, Melissa Kansky, Morgan Little, Brian Meyer, Julie Morse, Derek Scully, Rachel Southmayd, Katy Steele, Jeff Stern, Bethany Swanson and Carolyn VanBrocklin.