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The Internet--all grown up

Attorney Eric J. Sinrod says cyberspace is a long way from the hazy concept known as the "information superhighway."

Remember when Bill Clinton and Al Gore were seeking the White House in 1992, and they kept talking about an amorphous concept referred to as the "information superhighway"?

The concept sounded jazzy, but some of us were not exactly sure what it meant. A decade and a half later, we sure know what the Internet is, as it has penetrated practically every critical aspect of modern American life.

According to a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a whopping 73 percent of American adults currently are Internet users--and the percentage is increasing. Since March 2001, the percentage of Americans who report that the Internet has greatly improved their ability to do their jobs has grown to 35 percent from 24 percent. Over the same time frame, the share of online Americans who state that the Internet has improved their ability to obtain health care information has increased to 20 percent from 17 percent.

The survey also documents that online Americans report that their ability to shop has been greatly improved by the Internet, increasing to 32 percent from 16 percent in March 2001. Additionally, online Americans state that their ability to pursue hobbies and interests has been significantly improved by the Internet over this time frame, to 33 percent from 22 percent.

The sheer number of American Internet surfers is incredible. Approximately 147 million American adults now use the Internet, up from 133 million just one year ago. On top of that, 84 million American adults report that they have broadband connections at home, a large increase from 59 million one year ago.

Of course, Internet usage is not equal across ages and educational levels. While 88 percent of people from 18 to 29 years old are online, the percentage is 84 percent of people 30 to 49 years old, 71 percent for those 50 to 64 years old, and 32 percent for those over 65. Internet saturation is greatest with younger people, and this suggests that as America ages further, Internet usage will become more ubiquitous across all age demographics.

The higher the educational levels achieved, the larger the Internet usage percentages that emerge from the study. While 91 percent of adults with a least a college degree are online, the percentage drops to 84 percent for those people with some college education, to 64 percent for adults with a high school degree and to only 40 percent for people with less than a high school education.

Thus, those with less education appear to be at a further disadvantage by not using the Internet for their jobs, health, hobbies and shopping. Hopefully, educational opportunities will become available to all motivated Americans, so that an educational-Internet divide does not widen, and in fact closes.

At the end of the current day, this recent Pew survey certainly indicates that the Internet is becoming a mainstay feature in American life, like the telephone and the television set. While once we may have been unclear on the information superhighway concept, it is now difficult to imagine life without the Internet.