Virtual Worlds Are As Important As The Real World To Internet Users

A new study shows that more women than men are on the Internet, online communities are becoming key parts of our lives, and more people are surfing the Net at work.
A large number of Internet users feel as strongly about their virtual worlds as they do about the real world, a new study shows.

That's just one of many wide-ranging findings published by the University of Southern California-Annenberg Center for the Digital Future. The sixth annual study of the impact of the Internet on America shows that online communities are becoming key components of many people's lives, that more women are online than ever before, and that more people are using the Internet at work for non-work activities.

One of the findings shows that 43% of Internet users who are members of online communities say they feel as strongly about their virtual communities as they do about their real-world communities.

"More than a decade after the portals of the World Wide Web opened to the public, we are now witnessing the true emergence of the Internet as the powerful personal and social phenomenon we knew it would become," says Jeffrey Cole, director of the USC-Annenberg Center for the Digital Future. "In 2006, we're beginning to measure real growth and discover new directions for the Internet as a comprehensive tool that Americans are using to touch the world."

The study, which surveyed more than 2,000 people across the United States, shows that people are so engaged in online groups and communities that it's affecting how they act in the real world. More than one-fifth of online community members (20.3%) take related actions offline at least once a year. And almost two-thirds of online community members who participate in social causes through the Internet (64.9%) say they're involved in causes that were new to them when they went online. The study also shows that 49% participate more in social activism since they became involved in online communities.

Other findings include:

— The number of Internet users in the United States who keep a blog has more than doubled in three years to 7.4%, up from 3.2% in 2003;

— The number of Internet users who post photos online has more than doubled in three years to 23.6%, up from 11%;

— The number of users who have their own Web sites hit 12.5%;

— More than three-quarters (77.6%) of Americans 12 and older are Internet users;

— More than two-thirds (68.1%) of Americans use the Internet at home, up from 46.9% in 2000;

— The number of hours that people spend online is growing, rising to an average of 8.9 hours per week this year, compared to an hour less last year;

— In 2006, for the first time, the percentage of women online was higher than the number of men;

— More than one-third of Internet users (35.5%) say they spend less time watching TV since they began using the Internet;

— The percentage of people shopping online in 2006 hit 51.1%;

— Those online buyers are spending an average of $50 a month more than they did in 2001;

— New online shoppers are playing hard to get, though. The study shows that new Internet users wait an average of 35.2 months before making their first buy. That's up more than two months since just last year;

— Online shoppers are still worried about their privacy. Nearly 87% expressed some level of concern about protecting their personal information when they shop online;

— Almost 70% of adults said their children spend the right amount of time online, compared to the more than 40% of adults who say their kids spend too much time watching television;

— While 80.5% of kids say the Internet is very or extremely important for doing their school work, 74.1% of parents say their kids' grades haven't changed since they went online;

— Respondents said they use the Internet for work an average of 7.8 hours each week, up from 5.6 hours last year;

— Some 85% of users with Internet access at work say they can visit non-work-related Web sites while at work;

— About 70% say the Internet makes them more productive;

— Only 1.3% of those who go online at work for non-work-related reasons say it hurts their productivity.