Home computer increasingly part of U.S. lifestyle

May 24, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Writer

The personal computer, a revolutionary technology only 15 years ago, has found its way into almost one-third of the homes in a nation that actively likes technology, according to a nationwide survey of more than 4,000 Americans.

"Technology in the American Household," released yesterday by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, paints a portrait of a country where computers are becoming an increasingly integral part of people's lives. But it also finds disturbing evidence of a growing gulf between an "information elite" and their fellow citizens.

At the same time, the report discredits several popular notions about Americans and technology. For instance, it finds that computer users are not anti-social "nerds" -- at least no more than anybody else. And it says that even if a gender gap in attitudes about computers exists, it's closing fast in the younger generation.

For "technophobes" the report carries especially bad news: They're outnumbered more than 13-to-1 by technology fans. Only 5 percent of those surveyed said they dislike computers and technology, compared with 65 percent who approved and 25 percent who had mixed feelings.

The survey numbers also suggest the ranks of computer-haters will thin with the passage of time. Only 52 percent of those over 50 said they liked technology and computers, compared with 72 percent in the 18-to-49-year-old age group.

While older Americans are ambivalent about computers, children and teen-agers are increasingly staring into monitors instead of the "boob tube." Households with children were more likely to have computers than those with only adults, by a 39-percent-to-26-percent margin. Where there were youngsters and computers under the same roof, the children were computer users 75 percent of them.

But whether children get the opportunity to use a computer is largely a function of socioeconomic class. Among children of college graduates, 49 percent use computers, while only 17 percent of the children whose parents had high school educations or less have the opportunity.

Michael Liebhold, vice president for technology of the Times Mirror Co., said that when children of lower-income, less-educated parents do bring home a computer, their children use them in much the same way as the offspring of college graduates.

"When the computers are there, the children are benefiting," he said.

Adults are also apparently benefiting. According to the survey, 21 million Americans worked at home at least one day a week last winter with the help of a computer or a fax machine. About 23 million, or 13 percent, worked on their home computers nearly every day.

In households that have a computer, 67 percent use them for work, 46 percent for school and 83 percent for personal activities. Among the survey's findings:

* Contrary to the "nerd" image, computer users were just as likely as nonusers to have an active social and family life and only marginally less likely to take part in sports.

* Men are more likely to own computers, by a 35-percent-to-27-percent margin, but the usage gap among boys and girls whose parents own computers narrows to 53-to-47.

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