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Survey lists winners, losers from Net usage

Internet use is producing ripple effects across the U.S. economy by changing the work and leisure habits of wired Americans, a new survey suggests.

Internet use is producing ripple effects across the U.S. economy by changing the work and leisure habits of wired Americans, a new survey suggests.

Bars, newspapers, printers, liquor stores, and social clubs will be losers, researchers suggest, while take-out food, movers, gardening stores, exporters, and even lawyers will be fare better. Internet usage can affect everything from what cars people buy and where they eat dinner to where they'd like to live.

Those are among the findings of the so-called FutureScapes study from ActivMedia Research, based on surveys of about 5,600 Netizens on how they use their time today and how they'd like to spend it tomorrow.

"Social and family values are up," said Harold Wolhandler, ActivMedia's research director. "People are finding that because of the Net they are able to communicate in a new and more sincere way. A tremendous proportion [of respondents] say the Internet helps them stay in touch with their families."

Although some changes stem from spending time online instead of in the physical world, Net users find that, far from becoming socially isolated, being online improves their relationships and personal communications, according to ActivMedia.

More than half of respondents said online communications improved their ability to express sincere thoughts and feelings, while just five percent said it had a negative impact.

"Going to bars was down more among older people rather than young people, and it makes you wonder what all those older people were doing in bars anyway," Wolhandler quipped.

The survey, conducted between July 15 and October 17, included some 5,600 respondents, half of them via links to Yahoo, Excite, Four11, WebCrawler, and other popular Web sites. The other half were recruited through unsolicited email.

"In most ways, [survey respondents] resemble the Web population very well, although we are a little shy on females--27 percent vs. 45 percent in the general Web population," Wolhandler said. ActivMedia is not projecting the results as representative of the entire Web, he added, but it still thinks it can accurately project trends.

The research's list of winners and losers also reflect the almost utopian preference of respondents to living and telecommuting from smaller, more isolated communities--a demographic shift that would wreak great changes in urban America.

"Just under half would prefer to move to a small town or a wilderness area," Wolhandler said. "Only about 40 percent of those who live in cities would like to stay there, and most of them were under 25."

That led to conclusions that movers, shipping firms, and rural communities would gain, while urban areas and the suburbs would lose. The real estate and construction industries would see mixed benefits.

"Governments are anticipated as having a much tougher time staying on top of things like taxation and e-commerce," he noted. "That's also the reason for lawyers being on the winner's list. There will be more confusion and a lot of rearrangements of relationships as the economic underpinnings start to change."

The study's findings and its implications for industry and government are the focus of ActivMedia's Economic Earthquakes Conference, scheduled for December 3 to 4 in Washington, D.C.