The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Do you imagine that you're seeing an increase of tech warriors around you? Every time you turn around, do you see yet another geek with a cellphone AND pager hanging off his belt, along with a PDA in his hand, and probably an iPod in his pocket?

It's not your imagination: These techno-fetishists are growing in number. That's the findings of the latest Pew Internet & American Life survey, which finds that some 31 percent of Americans consider themselves to be "tech savvy".

Nearly one-third of the U.S. population? That sounds pretty high to me, and study author John Horrigan agrees, although there's no reason to doubt the conclusions. I think the study itself, and the study questionnaire, should be looked at closely. I suspect there are plenty of shades of savviness in that 31 percent. Someone who knows how to check email and use Excel may consider himself/herself to be on the ball tech-wise--especially compared to his/her Aunt Martha, who can't even turn on a computer. That doesn't mean much, though.

In the meantime, let me take a closer look at some of the other general findings:

They spend, on average, a total of $169 a month on broadband Internet service, satellite or cable TV, cell phones and Web content. That is 39 percent higher than the national average, $122.

My average monthly tech/communications bill is just less than the national average. If I jacked up my wireless phone minutes, I would be average; similarly, if I spring for digital cable, I'd definitely get closer to the tech savvy average. I'm not sure what "Web content" is defined as being (have to check the report). If it includes ecommerce purchases, then I might be there. Regardless, I'm not sure this spending measure is a real indicator of savviness. I'm sure many a techno-geek will argue that the ability to avoid paying for some of that stuff (i.e., music downloads) is a truer measure of techieness. On the other hand, that's the purpose of a survey like this: To build a consumer demographic profile that advertisers and marketers can use.

Some 29 percent of them have broadband connections, compared with 17 percent of everyone else.

I've only recently gone to broadband. Again, I'm not sure that's a real sign of being "with it" in your relationship with technology, although that's certainly the marketing pitch that's used to encourage upgrades. Indeed, I know plenty of people who have broadband connections, but they're not the least bit tech savvy; in many cases, the prime motivation to get broadband was to free up their home phone line, which according to this survey, would be a petty consideration (since the wireless phone is probably the primary or only phone connection for this demo).

About 7 percent of technology aficionados have canceled their landline phone and gone all-wireless. Only 2 percent of nontechies have done that.

This is probably a defining characteristic of a techie, only because it signifies a high comfort level with advanced phones and their features. It also points to a different mode of thinking vis a vis mobile phones and where they fit into a lifestyle: I know many people who still persist in considering their mobile phone to be an "extra" or emergency phone (much as they were first marketed when they started to become popular); a landline phone, in a fixed location, is a more "real" phone, and so they can't conceive of ever giving that number up.

Despite being plugged in to the Internet and other sources of data more often, only 13 percent of the tech-savvy crowd feels overwhelmed by information. By contrast, a sense of information overload plagues 25 percent of the rest of the population.

This is a question I get asked a lot when I take consumer surveys, and I've always been dissatisfied with the answer options of either "yes, I do feel overwhelmed" or "I like having all that info". Because in my mind, both answers are accurate. I'm an information junkie, and while I feel like I've got more, and access to even more, than I could ever practically use, I like the fact that I do have it. Naturally, it's what you can do with that data.