My Problem With The Pew High-Tech Survey

A lot of hay was made yesterday about a wide-reaching survey released yesterday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. For example, one of the things that got serious play was that about half of the people out there still don’t live their lives around high-tech products.

Instead, I guess, they are living their lives around such mundane things as their jobs, their churches, their families and so forth. Then the survey broke down the actual users into sub-groups, and explained various things about the sub-groups. It was all very interesting and informative, and then I got to the very end . . .

The telephone study of 4,001 U.S. adults, including 2,822 Internet users, was conducted Feb. 15 to April 6, 2006, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

This survey was taken over a year ago! A year! Do you realize how out-of-date that this information already is?

C’mon! It’s like the that supernova they’ve released all of the pictures of. First, they point out that it’s 240 million years old, then they call it a “new type of supernova.” Well, not if it happened 240,000,000 years ago, it isn’t. Just because it took us this long to discover it doesn’t make it new.

And because it took a year to crunch the numbers in this survey (and by the way, what kind of slow computers must have they been using?), you gotta wonder if they all still hold true.

After all, just think of where we were when this survey was actually taken:

  • YouTube was still powered by its own money.
  • Pluto was still a planet.
  • People were just starting to use their computers or iPods to watch network TV shows.
  • There were people worried about Microsoft might actually develop an “iPod Killer” that could get market share.
  • You could go to Tower Records to buy a CD or DVD.
  • We’d only met 7 Cylon models.
  • The Rickey Gervais podcasts were all over the place.
  • No major label had tried digital music downloads without DRM.
  • Neither HD-DVD or Blu-Ray had been released and we were gearing up for a new round of the format wars.
  • No one was anticipating the release of the iPhone.
  • No one had heard of lonelygirl15.
  • Major corporations weren’t rushing to figure out their Second Life Marketing Strategies
  • People were sure that Studio 60 was going to be way better than 30 Rock.
  • Spiral Frog hadn’t yet been released, revolutionizing how we download music (oh, wait a second).

And these are just the things that I can think of.

Now, of course, it’s entirely possible that the numbers of this survey are still entirely accurate. But it just seems to me that if you are going to survey what is — by definition — the fastest edge of society, that you might want to crunch the numbers a bit speedier, that’s all.

Otherwise, it might just seem like we’re looking at something that happened a long time ago.

2 Responses to “My Problem With The Pew High-Tech Survey”

  1. Erik Schmidt says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one. After all, what’s a year on the Internet to people who aren’t interested in it anyway? I’m not really sure that at this point in the evolution of the Internet, YouTube, Twitter, and Second Life aren’t going to entice the offline crowd into suddenly realizing that the Internet is actually spiffy. If they didn’t already get enticed by Hotmail, Google, iTunes, Travelocity, et al, I think the ship has already sailed away for these folks.

    That may be overstating it, but my take is that adoption by people who have theoretically had the opportunity to get online before (but just haven’t done so for whatever reason) is likely to change only minimally from year to year. I doubt six month-old results would be much different.

    I think sometimes it is difficult for those of us who live online to imagine that the things we find so fascinating (like bonus BSG content online) aren’t even on the radar screen for most of America. Ponder this: The mandatory HDTV switch is coming soon. TV is still the means by which most Americans get the bulk of their news and entertainment. Yet only 28% of us have HTDV sets. If that’s the case with the idiot box, I’m not at all surprised that many Americans are still reticent about the Internet and computers in general, especially given the complexity of computers and the unruliness of the Internet.

  2. Jim says:

    Hi Erik,

    I agree that the year passes differently for those of us in the middle of it than it does for those on the outside.

    What I’m not sure of is whether I agree with your assessment of what the tipping point might or might not be for some folks. I’m not even sure if it’s ever a specific app that draws people, but rather a combination of circumstances — some of which don’t even have to do with the internet itself, but rather an outside world social pressure or need. In other words, it’s impossible to know what will or will not spur somebody to make that decision.

    In terms of HDTV, I think that the gating factor is more one of price than anything else. As prices continue to drop and that mandatory date looms closer, my guess is that percentage will go up.

    And in some senses, the HDTV decision might actually be scarier, because everybody has always known everything about TV forever, and all of a sudden it’s become incredibly complex, and who wants to deal with that.

    To paraphrase the poet Rumsfeld, HD turns TV from being a known known to an unknown unknown whereas the internet remains a known unknown.

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