Technology not only plays a huge role in our daily lives, it has also become critical to the future of the entertainment industry. As new tech toys work their way into our hands and onto our desktops, stakeholders need to have a full understanding of how they are being used, who is using them and why. Research is taking the guesswork out of the equation.
A recently released typology of – get ready for some geek lingo – information and communication technology (ICT) users categorizes Americans into 10 groups based on the number of ICTs they own, and how they use and feel about them. The findings are from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a Washington, DC-based initiative of the Pew Research Center that studies the Internet’s impact on different groups and institutions. There’s gold for broadcasters and producers alike within the typology’s pages, since the sooner you can distinguish the diversity of these groups, the sooner you can identify those that should be targeted.
John B. Horrigan, associate director at the Pew Internet Project and author of the report, says of the 10 groups described in it (see chart, page 14), there are some broadcasters should keep a closer eye on. Take the group labeled ‘Omnivores’ as a prime example. At 8% of the general us population, they’re the most tech-sophisticated group in the typology. ‘They’re young and tend to be voracious consumers of information goods and services,’ says Horrigan. ‘These are the people broadcasters and the media are not only going to want to design for, but also reach out to since they’re the most creative and sophisticated users. The industry should keep close tabs on what they do and what they create.’
Like ‘Omnivores,’ Horrigan says the ‘Mobile Centrics’ group should also be a target for broadcasters. This segment is attuned to mobile access to media and fully embraces the functionality of cell phones. A total of 18% of the general population, these two groups are important drivers in the digital age. Then there are the ‘Productivity Enhancers’ and ‘Connectors’ groups – even though Horrigan says they ‘probably aren’t center of gravity for being the creative types who are involved with cyberspace,’ they’re also steady consumers of sophisticated information technology. They’re later adopters than ‘Omnivores’ and ‘Mobile Centrics,’ but the upside is that given their age (in the 40ish range) and educational status, they tend to have disposable income. With that money burning holes in their pockets, they’re able to buy more gadgets and media.
The report data, which was gathered through telephone interviews that sampled 4,001 American adults aged 18 and older, not only dissects users’ current habits, but also goes into detail on their attitudes about the role of tech gadgets in their lives. Based on this feedback, Horrigan theorizes on how those roles may change in the future. The fact that roughly half of the population in the sample doesn’t have a very close relationship with information technology now, says Horrigan, is partly because of a lack of high-speed Internet connections in the home. As more people get high-speed, he suspects ‘they might really start to embrace information technology in ways they’re not doing now simply because they haven’t had sufficient experience with it.’ The ‘Inexperienced Experimenters’ group, for example, already expresses satisfaction with the kinds of limited connectivity it currently has, and shows some signs of being part of the participatory Web.
Still, Horrigan stresses that certain groups will always be playing technological catch-up. Having a Web camera is one of the things that define elite users today, he says, but the gadget may be commonplace in five years and replaced by another technology that will be considered cutting edge.
It’s not only hardware that can lose its leading edge – it can happen to users, too. Ten years ago, members of the ‘Lackluster Veterans’ were probably considered leading-edge, says Horrigan, but today they’re less engaged in keeping up with all of the new developments in the technological sphere. It’s partly because of their attitudes; these applications just aren’t cutting it for them anymore. ‘You know by temperament they don’t like to have a cell phone vibrating on them every 10 minutes to interrupt whatever they’re doing,’ he says. ‘But also people enter different phases in their lives when other things take priority as opposed to being first in line for the iPhone. It might be hard to camp out overnight when you’ve got a couple of kids at home and a demanding job.’
Included here are charts from Pew Internet Project’s typology that illustrate the habits and attitudes of all 10 categories of ict users. The full report can be found at www.pewinternet.org.