A typology of information and communication technology users

23 May 2007

Half of all American adults are only occasional users of modern information gadgetry, while 8% are avid participants in all that digital life has to offer reports John Horrigan.

The advent of Web 2.0 - the ability of people to use a range of information and communication technology as a platform to express themselves online and participate in the commons of cyberspace - is often heralded as the next phase of the information society. Yet little is known about which segments of the population are inclined to make robust use of information technology and which aren't.

With that in mind, the Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a survey designed to classify Americans into different groups of technology users. They developed a typology along three dimensions of people's relationship to information and communications technology (ICT):

Assets: Pew asked people about their use of the internet, cell phones and other devices that connect to the internet (e.g., video or digital cameras). They also asked about their use of services that facilitate digital consumption, participation, and electronic communication (e.g., broadband and non-voice applications on cell phones).

Actions: Pew asked about activities in which people engage, such as downloading audio and video, generating their own online content, and a variety of things they do with their cell phones and computers. They also asked about frequency of online use.

Attitudes: Pew asked how people see ICTs helping them to be more productive at work, to pursue hobbies, and to keep up with family and friends; they also solicited their views about information overload and technology's capacity to offer more control over their lives.

The typology identifies a rich variety of Web 2.0 users and non-users. At one end of the spectrum, the survey identifies the heaviest consumers, most active users, and happiest denizens of the information society. It also locates those who find great satisfaction in the use of ICT even though they have fewer network resources.

In the middle range, the typology highlights some users who have invested a lot in services and hardware, but feel uncomfortable with the extra connectivity. And at the other end of the spectrum, it identifies those who get along - many of them just fine - with a relative scarcity of information goods and services.

The 10 groups that emerge in the typology fit broadly into a "high end," "medium users," and "low-level adopters" framework. However, the groups within each broad category have their own particular characteristics, attitudes and usage patterns.

The elite users of ICTs consist of four groups that have the most information technology, are heavy and frequent users of the internet and cell phones and, to varying degrees, are engaged with user-generated content. Members of these groups have generally high levels of satisfaction about the role of ICTs in their lives, but the groups differ on whether the extra availability is a good thing or not.

The middle-of-the-road users consist of two groups whose outlook toward information technology is task-oriented. They use ICTs for communication more than they use it for self-expression. One group finds this pattern of information technology use satisfying and beneficial, while the other finds it burdensome.

For those with few technology assets (four groups), modern gadgetry is at or near the periphery of their daily lives. Some find it useful, others don't, and others simply stick to the plain old telephone and television.

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