In addition, the Pew Internet & American Life Project study found that surfers were more likely to turn to the Web for matters of the spirit and society than they were for commercial activities during the holiday season.
According to the study, which surveyed 1,220 U.S. Internet users during December 2002, more than three-quarters of surfers performed some type of holiday activity on the Web. Seventy-one percent used the Web to fulfill some spiritual or social need, while 53 percent either shopped or did research related to a purchase.
Overall, researchers estimated that more than 30 million American bought gifts online during the 2002 holiday season, compared with 29 million a year ago. What's more, the study said, more than 4.5 million Web users get spiritual information online on any given day, compared with 3 million in late 2001.
Researchers said the study underscores the growingof the Internet as a source for spiritual information.
"It is still the case that more people use the Internet for religious or spiritual activities than have gambled online, used Web auctions sites, traded stocks online or used Internet-based dating services," the Pew researchers wrote.
Of those looking for spiritual information, women, African-Americans, and parents were most interested in spiritual activity online. Nearly half of all wired African-Americans sought religious material, and middle-aged Americans were more likely to seek spiritual information than people under 30 or over 60, according to researchers.
Shopping activity also picked up during 2002, with the average shopper spending $407 online, compared with $392 in 2001. About three-quarters of surfers said they shopped online to save time, half said they did so to find an unusual item, and 31 percent said they turned to the Web to save money.
Not surprisingly, Web use during the holidays also correlated with a person's experience with the Internet. Among those who've been wired for more than six years, 21 percent exchanged holiday greetings via e-mail with someone they hadn't spoken to in years, and 55 percent corresponded with family members about holiday plans or events.
Among those who've been online less than a year, just 7 percent reached out to long-lost friends and relatives via e-mail, and only one-third communicated with family about holiday plans.
One Web trend that hasn't taken off: the self-serving wish list. Just 6 percent of surfers created an online holiday wish list--a compilation listed at e-commerce Web sites of all the items a person wants to receive.