In the 1980s a British computer scientist named Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN, a large particle physics lab in Switzerland. He noticed that scientists from all around the world were flocking to the lab to use its particle accelerators, but they were having a hard time sharing the data they’d collected and the reports of their findings. This was due, in large part, to the fact that the lab didn’t have a connected computer system. Instead, information was stored on different computers around the compound, and to use the many computers one had to know how to use a host of different programs. Berners-Lee knew there was a way to solve this problem and set out to develop a solution: the World Wide Web.
First proposed in 1989, even tech-savvy scientists didn't embrace the idea immediately. Berners-Lee’s own boss, Mike Sendall, called his initial proposal “vague but exciting.” Today, however, the internet has become an integral part of daily life, and the global culture has become almost completely dependent on it. This is particularly true in the United States, where the vast majority of the population uses the internet regularly for both work and entertainment.
Stacker has rounded up 25 fast facts about how Americans use the internet. Using information from research and statistics groups like the Pew Research Center and Statista, as well as news sources and internet statistics organizations, this article looks at everything from how long the average American spends online each day to which websites are the most popular. Read on to discover which age group spends the most time on the internet, how many people rely solely on our smartphones to surf the web and other statistics that may challenge general perceptions of the internet.
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According to the statistics database Statista, there were 293 million internet users in America as of August 2019, which amounts to 87.27% of the American population. This number represents a massive jump from 2000, when only 52% of the American population used the internet, according to Pew Research.
Who are these 293 million American internet users? According to Pew Research Center, they’re primarily adults ages 50 and under. One hundred percent of 18- to 29-year-olds use the internet, as well as 97% of 30- to 49-year-olds. Meanwhile, only 73% of those ages 65 and older have adopted the use of the internet.
When the Pew Research Center first began collecting data about the internet in 2000, they found that more men were using the internet than women. At the time, 54% of men regularly used the internet while only 50% of women did. Today, that dynamic has shifted slightly: 91% of American women use the internet, while 90% of men regularly head online.
So how are all those people accessing the internet? A lot of us are logging on thanks to a home broadband connection. According to Pew Research, in February 2019, 73% of Americans reported having high-speed broadband connections in their homes. This is a huge increase from the 1% who reported having a home broadband connection in March 2000.
Aside from books and magazines, libraries have a host of other resources to offer the public. Among them, is free internet access. Pew Research found that 23% of Americans ages 16 and above, went to their local public library to use the internet in 2016 (the most recent year this data was available). It’s important to note that this doesn’t include college and university libraries.
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In the late 1990s, researcher Vic Hayes and his team introduced “the concept of an international standard for wireless networking,” or Wi-Fi, to the general public. While the concept didn’t immediately take off, there are now, as of 2019, 152,069 Wi-Fi locations available in the United States alone according to Statista.
A small, but growing, number of Americans rely on smartphones as their primary means of internet access. In 2013, 8% of American adults used their smartphones to go online and had no home broadband connection. By 2019, according to Pew Research, that number had grown to 17%.
A 2019 study by Hootsuite and We Are Social showed that the average American was spending just over a quarter of their life online. An average of six hours and 31 minutes is spent online each day in the U.S., which equates to just under 100 days or about one-fourth of a given year.
While the average American adult spends about 6.5 hours online each day, American teenagers surf the web even more. According to a Common Sense Media study done in 2019, the average teenager is spending more than seven hours online each day just for entertainment. This number doesn’t include the hours they spend completing school work online.
The increased amount of time Americans spend online in the blue glare of a screen may be causing some negative side effects. Experts have begun to link an increase in the percentage of adults with anxiety and depression to our use of the internet and the prevalence of technology in our lives. For example, a study done by Leeds University found that "excessive internet use is associated with depression," while stipulating that "we don’t know is which comes first—are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression?"
Internet Live Stats keeps a running count of the total number of websites on the internet, and as of January 2019, the number was just above 1.74 billion. That being said, the company theorizes that only around 200 million of these websites are currently active.
What are these 293 million web surfers looking at each time they go online? According to SimilarWeb, a website analytics service, Google is the most visited website in the United States, followed closely by YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon. Other websites in the top 50 include Reddit, Wikipedia, Twitter, Netflix, and several adult sites.
Spending time on social media makes up a bulk of the average internet user’s time online. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of adults had at least one social media platform (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.) in 2019. Of these users, 74% check their Facebook daily, while 63% report using Instagram at least once every day.
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In 2017, GlobalWebIndex found that most people had more than one or two social media accounts. In fact, the average person had 7.6 social media accounts. The company theorizes that the high number is indicative of old accounts that have never been closed (think MySpace) and a growing number of specialized social media platforms (think LinkedIn).
As discussed earlier, some of the most-visited websites in America are shopping platforms; Amazon leads the way, but eBay, Walmart, and Target are close behind in popularity. According to the Federal Reserve of Economic Data, e-commerce sales are becoming an increasingly larger percentage of overall retail sales in America. By the end of 2000, e-commerce sales made up only 1% of all retail sales; by the third quarter of 2019, that number had jumped to 11.2%.
This jump in e-commerce sales amounts to some real dollar value. Fox Business reported that American’s e-commerce spending has jumped by more than $100 billion over the last decade. In 2009, $34 billion was spent on online retail; by 2019 that number had shot up to $137.7 billion.
On major shopping days, the percentage of Americans turning to online retailers jumps significantly. For example, in 2016 (the most recent year data was available) Statista reported that 73% of consumers had shopped online on Cyber Monday.
One thing that everyone seems to be shopping for, whether in person or online, are devices that connect to the internet. NCTA, the Internet and Television Association, reports that the average number of networked devices per person (think Apple watches or Alexa devices) is about eight, but by 2022 they forecast the number to jump to 13.6 devices per person.
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According to Statista, many Americans are keeping track of all the money they’re saving, or spending, shopping online, by banking online as well. An estimated 161 million adults are accessing their bank, credit union, or credit card amounts online at least once a month to keep track of their money and pay bills digitally.
At the 2019 Online News Association's annual conference, it was revealed that 34% of Americans now prefer to get their news online, via websites, apps, or social media. This was a marked jump from 2016 when only 28% of Americans cited the internet as their primary source of news.
In 2018, Pew Research found that one in every five Americans gets their daily news from social media and that four in 10 get their news from Facebook specifically. However, 57% of Americans report that they expect these news stories to be largely inaccurate or are skeptical about the reporting, taking what they read with a grain of salt.
Gone are the days of turning in a paper copy of every assignment. Thanks to the internet, modern students complete the bulk of their school work online. However, an estimated 18% of American students, or nearly 3 million students, don’t have internet access at home, causing them to miss assignments and fall behind in necessary subjects like reading, science, and math.
Despite the above statistics, there is still a small percentage (10%) of Americans who say they never go online. According to Pew Research, some factors that correlate with internet non-adoption are being older than 65, living in a household that makes under $30,000 a year, and having less than a high school education.
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