Tech-savvy Americans Switching to Wireless

A new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project
finds that as people surround themselves with the latest technological gadgets and services, the landline telephone plays a less prominent role in their communication routines and the television recedes in importance as an information appliance.
Computers and the Internet are encroaching on the TV and the landline telephone as important information and communication tools for a growing number of tech-loving Americans, especially those in their twenties.

The most enthusiastic tech savvy Americans are the ones most likely to report a decrease in telephone calling because of the Internet and a tendency to use cell phones as a way to make long distance calls. These users are also the ones most likely to have either canceled a home phone line because of their cell phone or have seriously considered doing so. Although only 2% of all Americans have cancelled a wireline phone since getting a cell phone, 7% of the most enthusiastic tech users have done this. Another 20% have seriously considered doing so.

Since these tech enthusiasts are also the most likely to have connected to the Internet wirelessly and placed a phone call online, many of these technologically sophisticated young Americans are heading toward a style of communication that is untethered to a specific place. This trend is likely to be hastened by the Federal Communication Commission’s new rule that lets users have their home wireline phone number as their wireless number.

“For some of the most enthusiastic tech users in America, the wireline telephone may be going the way of the transistor radio,” said John B. Horrigan, principal author of the report and senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “It’s not that tech enthusiasts don’t value the capabilities a wireline phone offers, it’s just that those capabilities now come bundled in new services and gadgets that offer additional features with greater flexibility and at comparable cost.”


As tech elites, especially the young, migrate away from the telephone and old media, the Internet and the computer have become their communication devices of choice. On the typical day, young tech elites are nearly as likely to get their news from the Internet (39% do) as from TV (45% do). When asked whether it would be “very hard” to do without a variety of technologies, a greater proportion of the young tech elite said it would be very hard to do without their computer, cell phone, and the Internet than said this about the telephone or television.

The Pew Internet Project study, based on a survey of 1,677 Americans in October 2002, finds that 31% of Americans can be considered highly tech-savvy. These Americans all use the Internet, are very likely to have cell phones, are more likely than other Americans to have personal digital assistants, and are more likely to have engaged in leading-edge technology behaviors such as paying for online content and connecting to the Net wirelessly.

The 31% of tech savvy Americans sort into three groups:

*The young tech elite, whose average age is 22, are the most advanced tech users and they embrace the Net’s interactive aspects, such as content creation.

*Wired generation “X"ers, whose average age is 36, are the most likely to pay for online content.

*Wired aging boomers, whose average age is 52, are more likely to do lots of transactions online and work-related research.

These tech enthusiasts are the biggest spenders on information technology and seem to welcome the wealth of information the technology enables. On average, the 31% of people in the tech upper crust spend $169 a month on their broadband connections, premium cable or satellite TV service, tech gear such as cell phones, and Internet content. That’s 39% more than the national average.

Unlike many Internet users who only access free material online, some 13% of tech enthusiasts have paid for things on online magazines, specific articles of interest, or music. And they welcome having lots of information at hand; 83% of the tech elite say they like having an abundance of information at hand compared with 63% of the less tech savvy population who say that.

Tech enthusiasts are also aggressive in wanting to control their technology environment. They are active shoppers for service, as half have switched Internet service providers (ISP) at one time, something other tech users are less likely to do. And most tech enthusiasts (64%) have changed the homepage that their ISP provides them, which other tech users are reluctant to do (only 30% change the ISP-provided homepage). Tech savvy Americans are more likely to prefer to get Internet service from cable companies than either telephone companies or independents. This is especially striking for the young tech elite, half of whom say they would prefer a cable company for their ISP, twice the response rate of all others.

When it comes to leading-edge technology behavior, the tech elite, especially the young, are much more likely than others to experiment with the latest tech trends: One in six (17%) of the young tech elite have gone online wirelessly, versus 6% for all Net users; one in six (16%) of the young tech elite have placed a telephone call online, twice the average for all users; and, 13% of the young tech elite and wired gen Xers have paid for online content. Only 8% of remaining Internet users (including older wired boomers) have paid for online content.

Older Wired Baby Boomers spend the most. This group is 6% of the population, is mostly male, and has an average age of 52 years. These people spend the most money per month of any group (an average of $175), 100% have Internet access, and most (82%) have cell phones. They are very active information gatherers online, especially when it comes to news and work-related research, and they rate high when it comes to online.

The latest Pew Internet & American Life Project research asked all Americans about the kinds of information goods and services they have, how much they pay for them on a monthly basis, and about the strength of their preferences for the various gadgets and services they have.

The project is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization, fully funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to explore the social impact of the Internet.