The study, released Friday by the University of California, Los Angeles, is just the latest example of how the Internet is gaining ground against other forms of media for information, entertainment and news.
"The Internet has surpassed all other major information sources in importance after only about eight years as a generally available communications tool," Jeffrey Cole, director of the UCLA Center for Communications Policy, said in a statement.
Two thousand people, both Internet users and non-Internet users, were surveyed for the report, which is in its third year.
The report, "Surveying the Digital Future," asked Americans who use the Internet to rank the importance of six different forms of media as sources of information. Out of these respondents, 61.1 percent ranked the Internet the most important; 60.3 percent ranked books second important; 57.8 percent ranked newspapers third; 50.2 percent ranked television fourth; 40 percent ranked radio fifth; and 28.7 percent ranked magazines last.
While the Internet received top billing as an information source, it ranked fifth as a form of entertainment. Internet users rated television as the most important entertainment source by 56.2 percent; books ranked second by 50 percent; radio ranked third by 48.9 percent; magazines ranked fourth by 26.5 percent; and the Internet ranked fifth by 25 percent. Newspapers came in dead last at 22.8 percent.
Internet users, however, reduced their weekly TV viewing last year to 11.2 hours, compared with 12.3 hours the previous year. Non-Internet users spent 5.4 more hours per week watching TV than Internet users, according to the report.
However, barriers still remain in making the Internet a source of information and commerce that puts users completely at ease.
The majority of Internet users find the information online is credible, but this majority has declined from 58 percent in 2001 to 52.8 percent in 2002. And 88.8 percent of all survey participants were still concerned about their privacy when engaging in e-commerce.
"The twin problems of online privacy and credit card security plague many aspects of Internet use," Cole said.