Are You A High Tech "Omnivore"?

SAN FRANCISCO - APRIL 18: BlackBerry user Douglas Philips checks emails on his BlackBerry April 18, 2007 in San Francisco, California. Millions of BlackBerry users across the United States experienced a disruption in email service as Canada based Research in Motion dealt with technical difficulties with its email servers. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Justin Sullivan
A broad survey about the technology people have, how they use it, and what they think about it shatters assumptions — and reveals where companies might be able to expand their audiences.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that adult Americans are broadly divided into three groups: 31 percent are rabid users of technology, 20 percent are moderate users, and the remainder demonstrate little or no usage of the Internet or cell phones.

Some of the findings may not exactly be news — the heaviest users of technology are the youngest — but people's comfort levels with the devices that have seemingly become inextricable from our day-to-day activities is revealing. When asked whether they think computers and technology give people more control over their lives, less than half (48%) agreed; 16% said technology actually meant they felt less control, while 29% said they detected no difference.

But overall, adults do not seem to be intimidated by the volume of information available or the means to access it. When asked if they felt overloaded, 27% of all respondents said they did, but 67% said they like having so much information available.

The Pew study, "A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users," was released Sunday. It examined the access people had (or chose to have) with different technologies and how extensively they use them (i.e., maintaining blogs, using cell phones for text messaging, using downloaded content to combine with their own artistic creations).

Assets: Information Appliances
Percentage Of All Americans Who Have Specific Technology

Cell phone
Desktop computer
Digital camera
Video camera
Laptop computer
iPod or other MP3 player
Blackberry, Palm, or other personal digital assistant

Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project April 2006 Survey. N=4,001. Margin of error is ±2%.

The study divided respondents into three major groups, which were themselves broken down into sub-categories.

The "Elite Tech Users," representing 31% of adults surveyed, have the most information technology tools, use the Internet and cell phones heavily and frequently, and (to varying degrees) are engaged with user-generated content. This group is almost evenly split into four smaller groups:

  • "Omnivores," who fully embrace technology and express themselves creatively through blogs and personal Web pages;
  • "Connectors," who see the Internet and cell phones as communications tools;
  • "Productivity enhancers," who consider technology as largely ways to better keep up with their jobs and daily lives; and
  • "Lackluster veterans," those who use technology frequently but aren't thrilled by it.
"Omnivores" were five times more likely than the average to have watched a television program on a non-TV device, like an iPod or computer, and 84% have listened to a radio station without resorting to an actual radio at home or in the car. They love taking digital pictures — 86% of them do so — and they're not shy about it, either: fully half, or 51%, post those images on the Internet. They also shoot their own video (57%, twice the average), and must have some familiarity with Youtube: one in ten of those will upload their video to a Web site.

It may not be all fun and games, but it's certainly games: Omnivores are the heaviest players of video games. Almost two-thirds (62%) play a video game at least a few times a month, and they're not alone when they do — half of them have played online with someone else.

Who are these guys? (And yes, they're mostly guys.) Omnivores are mostly male (70%), young (median age 28), and ethnically diverse (64% white, 11% black, 18% English-speaking Hispanic). And since many are students (given their age), many have access to high-speed and wireless networks.

Curiously, while males dominate two of the four categories of high-end technology users, and are evenly split with women in a third, women outnumber men in "Connectors," and that is the only category with 100% adoption of cell phone technology.