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Home is where the computer is

A new study shows that computers are playing a more central role in the home, with more and more people citing them as the most important electronic device in their household.

    Computers are playing a more central role in the home, with more and more people citing them as the most important electronic device in their household.

    A Harris Interactive study backed by Microsoft and Dell Computer found that 50 percent of respondents said the computer was more important than any other digital device they own, including CD players, cell phones and DVD players. The 2002 International Digital Lifestyle study polled 1,500 people in the United States and Europe who own a computer and at least one other digital device--a prime target market for many consumer electronics makers.

    The study did not ask people about their television use, however.

    "We're seeing a lifestyle shift from almost exclusive television use to a higher percentage of people's lives spent on a computer," said Mark Oldani, director of marketing at Dell.

    The study also found that nearly one in three computer owners plans to buy another digital product this holiday season.

    If the respondents follow through on their shopping promise, it will be welcome news to the tech sector, which is bracing for what could be another dismal holiday season. Although a greater number of people are expected to spend more money online than ever before, uncertainty about the economy and the global situation may discourage people from spending with abandon.

    The Harris study showed that younger people who are on the verge of entering their prime spending years are more likely to value their computers, with 57 percent saying it's their most important machine. Among 35- to 49-year-olds, 48 percent said the computer was at the top of their list, and just 44 percent of those over 50 counted computers as their top electronic gadget.

    What's more, 84 percent of U.S. respondents and 69 percent of Europeans surveyed said their computer bolstered their confidence in other products.

    Computer use also varied significantly according to the age group. Many 18- to 34-year-olds said listening to music was the most important activity they performed with their PC; people in the 35 to 49 age range often cited job-related tasks; and people over 50 leaned toward e-mail.

    Not surprisingly, most people--some 61 percent of respondents--said connecting to the Internet was their most important task. That number was consistent across age and gender.