Omnivores to Off Network

Plugged In

A new Pew Internet report divides users of technology into 10 groups

May 10, 2007|By Mike Himowitz | Mike Himowitz,Sun Columnist

I took an online test this week and found out that I'm an Omnivore.

That got me worried, because Omnivores are the geekiest of online geeks, according to a new study of Americans' relationship with the Internet, cell phones, iPods and other accoutrements of the information age.

The report, issued this week by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, found that Americans - including many who have pockets full of gadgets - see the wired world as a mixed blessing.

In fact, our attitudes toward technology are surprisingly more complex and ambivalent than we might think.

How complex? After conducting a survey of 4,001 people, the Pew researchers chopped us up into 10 groups based on our attitudes toward information technology and how much we use it.

They also gave us cute names, ranging from the young "Omnivores," who have never met a gadget they didn't like, to older folks who are "Off the Network" and happy to live a disconnected life.

Unfortunately, those of us who write about technology get caught up in the hype far too often - and don't realize that the public might be a few steps behind us.

For example, Pew's numbers tell us that the vast majority of Americans, 85 percent, use the Internet, cell phones or both, but that many feel imposed on by all this instant connectivity.

Most Internet users don't read blogs, much less create them. Most of us are happy to use our smart phones to do nothing more complicated than make phone calls.

Only a fraction of us download songs over the Internet on a regular basis, and an even smaller group posts videos to YouTube. And, if all the BlackBerrys in the world vaporized overnight, only a tiny percentage of the universe would commit suicide.

Getting the report

The Pew Report, available online, is titled "A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users," a horribly dull name for a fascinating document. Since 2000, the Pew Internet project has provided some of the most accurate and sophisticated research into the impact of technology on our lives.

Pew spends big money for random telephone surveys that use well-established techniques to create a statistically valid sample of the entire population.

This particular sample was large enough to have a margin of error of only 2 percentage points.

Bottom line: When Pew reports, pay attention. Here's how the group's researchers divvy us up as communication technology users. To find out how you fit in, take a simple online survey at www.pew and compare your results with the descriptions below:

The categories

Omnivores (8 percent): These are the true believers, the gadget lovers, text messengers and online gamers, people with their own blogs and Web pages, video makers and YouTube posters. They tend to be young, male and happy about being connected. (Although I'm a lot grayer than these kids and certainly not as obsessed, I answered enough questions the right way to fall in with them.)

Connectors (7 percent): Dominated by female thirtysomethings, members of this group are wedded to their cell phones. They "surround themselves with technology and use it to connect with people and digital content. They get a lot out of their mobile devices and participate actively in online life," the report says.

Lackluster Veterans (8 percent): These are the most ambivalent users of the bunch, composed heavily of males in their 40s who typically have broadband Internet connections at home and may own a variety of gadgets. But they "are not at all passionate" about modern connection tools and don't see them adding to their personal productivity.

Productivity Enhancers (8 percent): Typically in their 40s, they're comfortable with technology but often use connectivity tools, including the Internet, for their practical value, rather than for entertainment.

Mobile Centrics (10 percent): Typically in their 30s, these folks are "strongly attached to their cell phones and take advantage of a range of mobile applications." They're more likely to use cell phones for all their calls, engage in heavy text messaging and experiment with mobile entertainment and information services.

Connected but Hassled (10 percent): These users "have invested in a lot of technology, but the connectivity is a hassle for them." Typically females in their 40s, they have computers, cell phones and other gadgets but suffer from information overload.

Inexperienced Experimenters (8 percent): Below average in Internet and cell phone usage, they're still willing to try out new technologies. Typically women in their 50s, many are willing to post messages on Web discussion sites, download music or post photos online.

Light but Satisfied (15 percent): These adults, typically women in their 50s, came to the Internet later than many of their peers. They understand the basics of information technology, but don't use it all that frequently or see it as an important part of their lives. They use cell phones but tend to buy plain models.

Indifferents (11 percent): "Although everyone in this group has a cell phone or Internet access, they are least likely to be users of both technologies." Mostly men in their late 40s, they're more likely to have slow, dial-up Internet connections and don't see communications technology improving their lives.

Off the Network (15 percent): Mostly women in their mid-60s with lower education and income, these folks have neither cell phones or Internet access, although they occasionally take and display digital photographs on a home computer.

For the full report (you'll need the Adobe Acrobat Reader), visit

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