The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

New data out of the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that, despite the joys and wonders of digital shopping, media and communications, most people are still more likely to go with traditional offline conduits.

One of the most-hyped and contentious online frontiers, digitized music, is surprisingly limited among the general populace:
Digital music gets a lot of attention as an "in" category now, but the survey suggests that fewer than one in four users actually use the Net to listen to music or radio. [Pew senior research fellow Deborah] Fallows said it's still just plain easier for people to turn on a stereo or car radio.
The one area where people are ga-ga for online info is maps:
If there was a surprise in the findings, Fallows says, it was the overwhelming reliance on online maps. She said some people in the survey said they like Internet maps so much they will call a friend while driving and ask him or her to go online and get them directions.
Of course, if you make regular use of Mapquest and the like, you know that it doesn't always give you the most direct route to where you're going. That must account for all the clueless drivers out there who are constantly slowing me down...

The idea of maps as one of the more valuable online resources corresponds with my experience, sort of. I recall sometime just before the turn of the century hanging out in a friend's office, helping him pack stuff up for an impending business trip. He complained that the worst part about traveling to new cities was having to buy road maps, or else just not knowing how to get around in unfamiliar surroundings. I kind of stared blankly at him for a couple of beats, then said, "You do know that you can create driving directions and maps through the Web, right?" It was a revelation to him (this was circa 1998, so he can be forgiven for presuming the Internet was good for nothing but chain emails and porn). I showed him the magic of online map sites, and he spent an extra half-hour printing out driving directions.

I've followed Pew Internet's findings closely. Their reports are fairly uniform about Internet permeation being more hype than fact (search the blog to find older posts; I'm too lazy to do it myself, and besides I'm on hurricane watch). I realize this looks like party-pooper work, but it's refreshing to step back from the tech/Web/blogging echo chamber and realize what the real world is doing.