the first comprehensive study of the sweeping changes produced by
the Internet, researcher Jeff Cole chronicles our love-hate relationship
with a technology that is altering the world as we know it.
Illustration by Gina Triplett
Jeff Cole '75, M.A. '75, Ph.D. '85 released the findings of his
landmark UCLA Internet Report in October, it snagged news headlines
from coast to coast. And why not? With this ongoing report about
the global impact of the Internet, Cole, director of UCLA's Center
for Communication Policy, intends to document the political, social,
cultural and economic changes that have been wrought by a new technology
he asserts is no less revolutionary than the printing press.
year of the study, which looks at 20,000 users and non-users of
the 'Net, created a snapshot of American attitudes toward technology
that Cole and his researchers plan to turn into a moving picture
as the study continues. Their multifold findings illustrate that,
in the year 2000, the Internet is a technology embraced by many
but still mistrusted, shunned by non-users yet still appreciated
by them as a growing presence in daily life. He spoke with Lynn
Lipinski, media-relations director of The Anderson School.
did you begin this project?
I began with the belief that the Internet is going to change everything,
and I wanted to watch that change at ground level. A few years ago,
I saw that for the first time in the history of television, the
number of children viewers had dropped. Kids were watching less
TV. They had finally found something they liked more - the Internet.
And I realized that while television is about leisure and entertainment,
the Internet's about work, school and play. And it's going to transform
our society. There's not a business or activity that will not be
affected. Most will be transformed. And that transformation will
occur in dozens of ways we can predict - commerce, communication
patterns - but also in thousands of ways we can't even begin to
imagine. I really believe this is the most exciting, important development
of our lifetime.
if someone had done a study like this when television came onto
Television is the most important cultural influence of the second
half of the 20th century, and it truly is a lost opportunity that
no one went into households before and tracked how it transformed
our leisure and entertainment and affected commerce and family life.
But television didn't transform all of society, and the Internet
will. What we are seeing with the Internet is a communication revolution
on par with the acquisition of language and the invention of the
printing press. We launched this study believing that the Internet's
influence will dwarf that of television. The era in which we live
will be known as the beginning of this interactive technology because
the Internet will be integrated into every element of our lives.
is it important to include users and non-users in this study?
First, that is another way that our study is different from some
of the others that have been done. Personally, I wish that no one
was using the Internet and that we could watch everybody start to
go on-line. It's too late for that in the United States. But it's
not too late for that in some countries. The good news, though,
is that we will be able to watch American households move from dialing
into the Internet via modems to accessing it through broadband connections.
I think that high-speed broadband access, currently only in 2 percent
of U.S. households, has the potential to change our entire relationship
with the Internet. With direct connection, users will most likely
be on the Internet probably 25 times a day for two to three minutes,
as opposed to hour-and-a-half sessions as we see now with modems.
Then I think we will see the computer or the Internet access device
move out of the bedroom or the office and into the kitchen. People
will walk in and out of the kitchen, check e-mail, send a message,
look up a piece of information and then move on. Then the Internet
may end up displacing television - or maybe just television advertising
- even more.