Mobile Devices Narrow Digital Divide

While Internet adoption in the United States has leveled off, more people, especially young adults and minorities, are accessing the digital highway through their smartphones.One in five American adults disdains the Internet, but 88 percent of American adults now own a cell phone, which is becoming the digital highway of choice for younger adults, minorities and people with lower household incomes.

These results from a Pew Internet Project tracking survey indicate six in 10 adults goes online wirelessly with a cell phone, laptop or tablet. Groups that have lagged in intensive Internet use — young adults, minorities, those with no college experience and people with lower household incomes — say their primary and preferred Internet access is through smartphones.

While Internet adoption in the United States has leveled off at just less than 80 percent of adults, those who access the Internet have become more intense users. Intensity of use varies among age groups, levels of education attainment, income and speed of Internet access.

Email and search functions remain the staple of Internet use, but online banking is becoming a relative common practice, with 61 percent of adult Internet users doing it. Purchasing products has boomed, but mostly with users younger than 65 years old. Of course, social networking has intensified Internet use, though again it is skewed more heavily toward younger users, as 87 percent of users younger than 30 visit social media sites, contrasted with 29 percent of those 65 and older.

The one in five adults who don't bother with the Internet say what it offers isn't relevant to them. But a significant percentage admit they don't know how to get on and navigate the Internet, which might actually be the barrier, real or perceived, to their adoption. Another reason is the lack of a high-speed connection.

Disparities persist in Internet users. Adults with less education and households earning less than $30,000 are the least likely to have Internet access. People with disabilities also are significantly less likely to use the Internet.

Data for the report, which was released last week, came from a survey conducted in the summer of 2011 using both landline and cell phones. A total of 2,260 adults were interviewed in either English or Spanish.