Despite the unflattering portrait of a stressed-out, Internet-addled American, there’s no denying this: We really, truly love the web. But there are some parts, like social media, that we could live without.
A new study from Pew Research Center finds that 87 percent of U.S. adults are now online, the highest level ever recorded by the pollsters. Among those with Internet access, 53 percent say it would be “very hard” to give it up. No other form of communication examined by Pew — including cell phones, television and landlines — achieved that level of devotion. Which makes sense: The Internet offers alternatives to each of those technologies.
Part of that enthusiasm is work-related. Sixty-one percent say the Internet is essential for their jobs, with another 30 percent saying they’re online purely for pleasure. Seven percent say they’re online for both reasons.
However, for most Americans, this isn’t a case of addiction, in which they feel they need to use the Internet despite despising it. Despite the many trends pieces about how detrimental the Internet is to our relationships and brains, the vast majority of Americans online see things differently.
Ninety percent say that the Internet has been good for them personally, even when given the chance to hedge and say it’s been “equally good and bad.” Only slightly fewer people, 76 percent, told pollsters that the Internet is a good thing for society as a whole. Few have let the Internet trolls bother them, with three-fourths claiming people they’ve encountered online have been “mostly kind.” And two-thirds of Americans say that online communications have strengthened their IRL relationships. Apparently, the stories that usually make the news about people being attacked or relationships being destroyed through the Internet are the exception rather than the rule.
Yet there’s one facet of online life that Americans can clearly live without: social media. Only 11 percent of adults online say it would be very hard to give up Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their ilk, the poll found, though most Americans have some social media presence.
Pew doesn’t dive deeper into people’s feelings about specific social networks. (In fact, it’s the first time Pew has asked this question, so there’s no up or down trend to report.) But when most Americans talk about social media, they’re talking about Facebook. At the end of 2013, Pew found that 72 percent of Americans are on Facebook, with every other social network a distant second. Other researchers have measured Americans’ feelings about social networks, and they’re getting uglier and uglier. Weighed down by privacy concerns and invasive ads, a Harris Interactive poll from last year ranked Facebook No. 42 among the 60 top U.S. corporations by reputation, below Walmart and AT&T.
If Americans chose to disconnect from the world’s largest social network, their experience online would of course be different. But for the most part, we seem to be OK with the idea of an Internet without it.