Pacific Connection(英語)

Who's Online-and What Are They Doing There? The first results of the World Internet Project has some answers and surprises

  • Only 25 percent of Japanese think the information on the Internet is reliable and accurate. That's comparable with Germany, but much lower than in Britain, Hungary, or the U.S. By contrast, Swedes and Koreans are very trusting of Internet information.
  • Korean men spend a lot of time on the Internet: an average of 15.9 hours a week. Japanese men average 7.3 hours, Americans, 13.1 hours.
  • Japanese Internet users on average watch 5.4 hours less television each week than non-users. Americans are about the same.
  • Seventy-one percent of Americans use the Internet, versus 50 percent of Japanese, 61 percent of Koreans, and just 24 percent of Taiwanese. But more Koreans are online longer-56 percent are online at least 10 hours a week.

These are among the findings of the World Internet Project, a multi-country survey coordinated by the UCLA Center for Communication Policy with research institutions throughout the world, including Japan's Toyo University, Germany's European Institute for the Media, and Korea's Yonsei University.

The Center's study of Internet use began in the U.S. a few years ago. UCLA researchers spoke with 2,000 randomly selected Americans, including both Internet users and non-users. Surveyors now try to return to those same individuals each year to see how their habits have changed. Other survey partners mostly take the same approach, though some countries have concentrated on urban populations. Chile's survey covers only Santiago, while China concentrates on the 10 largest cities. Some survey partners have been active for four years, including Japan, Singapore, and Italy. Britain joined last year, while Australia just signed on.

Why study worldwide Internet use? "One of the things I had been taught in graduate school is that we missed a great opportunity in researching television: that television was the one mass medium everybody knew was going to be a mass media," says Jeffrey Cole, the Center's co-founder and director. "What we should have done back in the 1940s was to track people before they had television and then look at how their lives changed year after year. We would have learned some pretty interesting things-where the time for television comes from, and how it changed our civic behavior, our purchasing behavior, our desire to travel, who we wanted to be when we grew up, and a thousand other things."

Cole says that the influence of the Internet will exceed that of television because, while television is mainly about leisure and entertainment, the Internet is used everywhere: at work, at play, in schools. The Center is now in its fifth year studying American Internet habits. It announced the first worldwide comparative findings earlier this year, including data from Britain, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Korea, Macao, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan and the U.S. Next year's findings will be even broader, as the number of global research partners keeps growing: 20 countries and counting.

Even a quick look at the results makes one thing clear: the Internet-which started out as a way to remotely access large research computers-has woven itself into people's daily lives. There is still a "digital divide"-poor people and poor countries have less Internet access. But as technologies go, the Internet has become a worldwide medium of striking success. And that success has happened relatively quickly. Cole recalls that in 1994, the Center sponsored a conference that explored the impact of technology in the entertainment industry, including a who's-who of media company executives. "Yet, the word 'Internet' was used maybe about three times. People barely knew who Steve Case was and didn't know what AOL was." Were that same conference held today, not only would the Internet be a main point of focus, but also the entire proceedings would probably be available via "netcast."

Believers and skeptics

One of the more interesting findings of the survey is the degree of skepticism different nationalities bring to the Internet. Americans are fairly typical, with 53 percent of respondents saying that most or all information on the Internet is reliable and accurate. Seventy percent of Korean respondents felt the same way. But 36 percent of Swedes and 24 percent of Japanese felt that none or only some of the information online is reliable and accurate. Why the doubt?

"My own belief is that's a function of how much they have trusted their own media and their own information in their country, as well as some cultural differences," says Cole. "I don't think it's based that much on what they are looking at. On the whole, most countries see the online information as fairly credible."

That finding does not surprise him, but it does concern him. "In the United States I don't think the Internet has earned the right to have 53 percent of users have that degree of confidence." And indeed, as more Americans go online, they are having more doubts. The forthcoming U.S. fourth-year U.S. survey will show that the trust factor among Americans has dropped to 49 percent. "People are going online with a great deal of faith in Internet credibility, and they are learning that some of it is good and some of it is not very good." The survey shows that credibility varies, depending on the website. It is highest for information on the sites people visit regularly, lower for established media websites and government websites, and extremely low for individual websites.

Toyo University research

Shunji Mikami, a professor at the Department of Media Communications at Toyo University, says that the high degree of skepticism in Japan could have been caused by alarmist reporting from the media that exaggerate the risks of the Internet. "Most people find these sites useful for dating, but there have been cases of abuse," he says. And the abuse tends to get more attention than its numbers would suggest. Because the Japanese media over-emphasizes the dangers and risks of the Internet, Mikami says, people get an inflated sense of those dangers.

Mikami says that his department's four years of studies show that Internet usage in Japan has grown from 33 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2003. "But in the last two years the growing rate is approaching saturation level," and that level is somewhat lower than television. Japanese TV viewership is at almost 100 percent, but Internet use may level out at under 70 percent, at least for the time being. "Most of the older people, over 50, are not interested in using the Internet. Their use is increasing, but the increase rate is low compared to the U.S."

In many ways, Internet usage in Japan resembles that in the U.S. The most popular websites are search engines, followed by traffic and travel information, followed by newspapers. Japan is ahead of the U.S. in terms of broadband use-second only to Korea. The reason, says Mikami, is economic: Americans can still get cheaper dialup services while in Japan, broadband and dialup cost nearly the same.

But Japan differs from the U.S. and European countries in at least one significant way: the shift of Internet use from PCs to mobile telephones. "Mobile Internet access has increased dramatically in recent years," Mikami says, especially among young women and teenagers. That trend is especially surprising to Americans, where mobile phones are principally used for voice, with increased use of SMS messaging. In the U.S., phone keypads are seen as too limited and the screens too small. "The most popular websites on the telephone are not search engines, but downloading ring tones," he says. "Next comes the screen savers, then search sites--Google and Yahoo are popular, as is MSN." Another popular site: fortune telling.

Life beyond the Net

The survey has some surprises for people who believe Internet users spend too much time in front of the screen. In almost every country, Internet users report spending more time socializing with friends than non-users. In Japan, for instance, Internet users spent 10.5 hours a week with friends, versus just 7.4 percent for non-users. And in most countries, Internet users say they exercise more hours a week. (In Japan, both users and non-users report exercising 2.7 hours a week. By contrast, American Internet users devote almost twice as much-the highest of any surveyed group.) Internet users in all surveyed countries except Germany and Japan also spend more time reading books.

This area of inquiry was a big focus during the first year of the UCLA study, which surveyed American Internet users. Cole says the researchers wanted to know whether "going online put your social life at risk. Are users more sleepy because they stay up all night online, fatter because they sit in front of a screen, and less social and more alienated, lonely and depressed? In year one users were, as a group, younger than non-users and that may help account for why they get more exercise. Users sleep only one hour less per week, spend a bit more time with their friends and are less alienated." Because most Americans are now Internet users, these differences between users and non-users have narrowed a bit. "But they still hold true."

The survey found that, in all countries, Internet users spend less time watching television: 5.7 hours less in Santiago, Chile and in Hungary, 5.4 hours less in Japan, and 5.2 hours less in the U.S. Cole says the researchers first noticed this trend in the U.S. and are now seeing it occur worldwide.

The gender gap, Chinese use, the digital divide....

Other World Internet Project findings:

  • While men use the Internet more than women, the gap is changing between the percentages of each gender online. While Japan has an 8 percent gap, it's just 4 percent in the U.S., 3 percent in Sweden. The biggest differences: Italy and Spain with gender gaps of around 20 percent-with almost two times more Italian men online than Italian women. Cole calls the more extreme differences in usage "surprisingly large."
  • The results in China were unusual in several respects. Significantly more Chinese users said the Internet increased their contact with people who share their political interests, and increased their contact with people who share their hobbies or recreational interests. Indeed, Chinese Internet users said they had an average of 7.7 online friends whom they have never met in person-more than twice that of any other surveyed countries. (Japan had the lowest: an average of 1.1.) Eleven percent of China users said the Internet increased their contact with people who share their religion-more than in any other country, which is surprising, considering that religion in China is officially banned.
  • Poor people are under-represented on the Internet, but more are coming online. In more than half of the surveyed countries, at least 20 percent of the poorest quarter of the population now uses the Internet. The numbers are highest in Sweden, where nearly half of the poorest quarter of the population is online, as well as Korea (46 percent) and the U.S. (43 percent).
  • People from Spain have met an average of 2.3 online friends in person. By contrast, Japanese and American users averaged just .06 and .08, respectively.
  • 51 percent of German men and 45 percent of German women buy things on the Internet. In Japan, the numbers are 33 and 28 percent.
  • Sweden had the highest percentage of experienced Internet users (55 percent); Chile (Santiago) the highest percentage of beginners (28 percent).
  • Singapore had the highest use of the Internet at home (8.3 hours), Hungary the lowest (1.9 hours). Japan averaged 3.9 hours, the U.S. 6.8 hours.
  • Not surprisingly, all countries reported that Internet use was highest among people age 16-24, lowest among those 55-64. But a lot of oldsters in the U.S. are online: 67 percent. Higher Internet use also correlates with having a university degree.
  • An interview with Jeffrey Cole, Director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy

    The principal investigator of the UCLA World Internet Project, Jeff Cole established the UCLA Center for Communication Policy in 1993 with his colleague, Geoffrey Cowan, who is now dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. In the mid-1990s, Cole headed the Network Television Violence Monitoring Project, and the Center began by looking primarily at television and film-and how they were being affected by technology.

    Cole spoke by phone from his office on the UCLA campus. He had just returned from a conference in Budapest and was off to another in Jamaica.

    You started out studying "old media" like television. Has Internet use affected how people watch it?

    We found from day one that Internet users watch less television than non-users. We found that in every country we looked at around the world. As people go online they begin to watch less television. Some Internet time clearly comes from television time.

    When the United States started watching television, all we did was sit down and watch television. Then we learned how to have dinner in front of the set, and now, how to do God-knows-what in front of the television. But with the Internet, people have been multitasking from the beginning. People may be surfing the Web while listening to the radio, watching television, doing instant messaging, talking on the telephone. They may be doing three or more of these things at once. And the Internet lends itself to that because most of the Internet will freeze if you leave it alone. Television doesn't do that unless you have a personal video recorder, a PVR, like a TiVo.

    With Americans, and I think it's true with the Japanese and others, if we're going to carve out time to go online, it almost has to come out of television because for Americans, television has dominated our at-home awake time. Look at the time Americans spend at home while they are awake-the television is almost always a part of that. Many people, the first thing they do when they walk into the house, is turn on the television set.

    What does that mean for commercial television?

    Television advertising, which is the economic model of commercial television, has been in trouble for a generation. It started with the remote control, which gave people a way to go somewhere else during commercials. It accelerated with cable channels, which gave them other places to go to, as well. Then the VCR gave you the ability to skip through commercials--although only 20 percent of people who ever owned a VCR ever used it to record. With PVRs, the promise of skipping through commercials has now been fully realized. So the Internet by itself is not killing television, but the Internet, combined with all these other things, is killing the economic model of commercial television that delivers audiences to national advertisers. That's going to have to change, and the Internet is one more thing compounding that.

    Almost everybody knows it's changing, particularly as PVRs are now going onto settop boxes and are about to explode in growth. We know that almost no one sits down and just watches commercials. They are either flipping to another channel, are on the phone, going to the bathroom or kitchen, are talking, or they are on the Internet.

    Does that mean that free television will go away?

    No, it means we're going to see a little bit more product placement. We're going to see a return of the sponsored advertising of the 1950s, where companies would buy an entire show and put their name it. NBC has eliminated most theme songs: research that showed after you had heard a theme song twice you don't listen any more. And they eliminated commercials between the opening of the shows and the first act, and ran the comedy after the credits. This is so far an American phenomenon, but I think it has to happen worldwide.

    What about the much-touted convergence between the Internet and television?

    That has not yet happened-it's much slower than people thought--but it will. The idea is that the television set and the PC will become the same device. First of all, people have been buying PCs who don't need PCs. Most people who are online want to send email and search the Web, and you don't need a very expensive processor for that. So we are going to see more and more television sets that have Internet connections and we will see convergence. It's starting to emerge.

    What about the high level of online participation of citizens in the poorer countries? Does the digital divide span countries as well as people?

    If you look at the lowest quartile of income, some people think the news very encouraging, while others say it is depressing. For example, if you want to be depressed, even in the U.S. you could argue that there's twice as much participation, in terms of percentage, of the highest quartile versus the lowest. On the other hand, I thought there were some pretty healthy percentages in the lowest quartile, showing that it's starting to make progress. But clearly there is still some kind of digital divide worldwide.

    When we started this work, the country that we thought was going to be in the lead technologically was Singapore. Singapore is doing fine, but Korea has become the most advanced country with the highest instances of broadband and the highest cellphone penetration. But even in Korea, there's a gender divide and a huge age divide. So overall, the U.S. and Sweden are the two countries in our study doing the best overall of moving the benefits of the technology across all of society. And that's in many ways a tribute to the U.S., because its population is so diverse.

    What about gender differences? Men in every country use the Internet more than women. Is that changing?

    We measure this by the percent of each gender that's online, and it averages about an eight percent gap. There are a couple of countries that are doing better than that: the U.S. is one, with about a four percent gap. Then there are some countries where the gap is much larger than eight - Korea, Spain and Italy, which may have to do with their macho traditions. Japan is at 55 percent of men, 46 percent of women, which is pretty close to the average.

    Where is the study going?

    On one hand, we'd like to change nothing so that we can go back and track the same data. But the study also has to evolve as the world changes, because the most interesting changes are often the unanticipated ones. For example, this year we're seeing for the first time a backlash towards e-mail. People are seeing it take over their life-it's the last thing you do before you go to sleep and the first thing you do in the morning. We've seen people trying to push it back a little bit, saying I don't have to answer these as fast as I used to. That's an interesting trend.