The digital revolution and society

The digital revolution and society

Digital technology is not just a technical matter, because when a tool of such power is developed, it has a profound impact on politics and war, business and social life, culture and the arts. Truly, digital technology is bringing about a revolution in all these fields in a way which is only now unfolding because of the inertia of human institutions. As you might expect, this has made it the subject of study by statisticians and scholars alike.

US Census Current Population Survey (CPS)

The US Census agency (in the last century a continuously empaneled statistics body that no longer disbands after the decennial census is completed) has collected a lot of data on the use of computers and the Internet by Americans.

The Current Population Survey is a monthly survey conducted by the census. Besides a repeated core of questions, from time to time it asks additional questions focused on particular topics, which is the subject of its Supplements studies.

The supplement pertaining to computer and Internet use, comprising studies done in 1994, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003, has its data collected online here.

A recent important US federal study, which draws on the Department of Labor Bureaua of Labor Statistics Census data, was drafted last year (2004) in cooperation with the Department of Commerce. Naturally published online, it is called: "A Nation Online: Entering the Broadband Age" and contains a wealth of reduced data.

I have spent a little time looking at the Georgia data from these studies, which was the subject of an e-mail I wrote 10 Mar 2005, which I now quote in part:

Last year I had a chance to look over the [CPS] data from LONG ago
(October 1997) and get the ACTUAL numbers for Georgia, broken
down by county. Not EVERY Georgia county was surveyed, but
all five affluent central "Atlanta" counties (Cobb, Fulton, Clayton,
DeKalb and Gwinette) were, as well as multiple other counties.
Here are the results I totalled up:

Use of PCs and Internet in Georgia homes in October 1997
                        5 "Atlanta"       other       all Georgia
                         counties        counties 
No PC at home             54.7%           63.0%          60.0%
PC but not Internet       13.2%           17.6%          16.0%
PC with Internet access   32.2%           19.4%          23.9%
                          =====           =====          =====
Total                      100%            100%           100%
Actual home
numbers asked              737            1353           2090

October 2003 was the last time the CPS asked about Internet use.
Here are the estimated results for the households in Georgia:

Number of households:                 3,403,201
Households with 1+ persons who
        use the Internet from home    1,829,070
Households with NO persons who
        use the Internet from home    1,574,131

Today, a SOLID MAJORITY of Georgia households contain
at least one person who uses the Internet from HOME. Of the
"using" households, about 2/3 have "dial-up" (telephone line)
Internet access. The others have fast "broadband" access...

Note that there surely are more PC-using Georgia households
than home-Internet-using ones, as almost all home access is
via a PC. In October 2003, nationally, 54.6% of households
accessed the Internet from home, and 61.8% had PCs. Even
among persons age 3 or older living in households with incomes
UNDER $15,000 per year, Internet use (somewhere) was 31.2%; and
7.5% even had home broadband access! And over all income levels,
57.2% of persons in US rural areas used the Internet somewhere...

Pew Internet & American Life Project

This is a widely-quoted series of survey-based studies done by what describes itself as "A non-profit research center studying the social effects of the Internet on Americans." It is online here.

As an example of the data collected, this graphic reveals that among American adults, presence "online" (i.e. use of the Internet today) was rare in the mid-90's but became a strong majority phenomenon at the turn of the century, saturating around the 60% level for the last several years. Data from early 2005 showing the breakdown among major demographic segments here, reveals that substantial minorities (27-28%) of seniors (age 65+) and high school dropouts use the Internet today while groups with especially high usage (84%-92%) include the young (ages 18-29), college grads, and households earning $50,000 per annum or more. Other interesting tables show the fraction of adult respondents who self-report doing a particular online activity "yesterday" or "ever".

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society

This is a special branch of Harvard Law School, online here, whose Mission Statement reads:

The Berkman Center's mission is to explore and understand cyberspace, its development, dynamics, norms, standards, and need or lack thereof for laws and sanctions.

We are a research center, premised on the observation that what we seek to learn is not already recorded. Our method is to build out into cyberspace, record data as we go, self-study, and publish. Our mode is entrepreneurial nonprofit.

Other sources of data

Interesting studies of Internet use at US public libraries are available here.

A large collection of statistics pertaining to information technology is available at IT Facts. Some interesting facts include these:

US high-speed ("broadband") Internet access YE2004
"In 2004, the number of high-speed subscribers in the United States grew by 35.4% to reach 32.5 mln subscribers, consisting of the following access technologies: cable modem (17.0 mln), DSL (12.6 mln), fixed wireless (2.2 mln), fiber-to-the-home (0.2 mln), satellite (0.4 mln), mobile wireless (3G) (0.1 mln), and broadband over power line (less than 50,000)."

Global high-speed ("broadband") Internet access 2005Q1
"World broadband lines reached 164 mln in Q1 2005... The USA is still the world's largest broadband country with 36.5 mln lines, and China remains in second place with 28.3 mln lines." [Notice that the top 10 nations are the (former) G-7, plus three "Pacific Rim" tigers: China, South Korea and Taiwan. Missing is English-literate India (despite its high-profile white-collar outsourcing service to the developed world) and one-time USA (nuclear & aerospace) technological rival Russia. About half the global broadband lines run in only three nations, all with many northern Pacific ports: the USA, China and Japan.]
Facts and figures, market shares, statistics about information technology on ITFacts.biz