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Conversation: 'Net Worth

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Winter 2000
'Net Worth
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Q: How have your first year's findings surprised you?

A: We found that people who are on the Internet feel more connected in their social lives and report less loneliness. We also found that among 12- to 15-year-olds and 45- to 50-year-olds, there are more females than males on-line. And the longer you have been an Internet user, the more you use it and for a wider variety of purposes. We also found widespread concern about privacy and the Internet, about companies tracking us, watching where we go, gathering information about what we purchase and using it to sell us products and services.

Q: Who do you hope is paying attention to your study and findings?

A: We have so many audiences we want to serve. Scholars, policy-makers, business leaders, parents, teachers, interested citizens. The Internet is affecting everyone's life, whether they use it or not. So even if you're a non-user in America, you are being influenced by the Internet. We hope that scholars will look at pieces of what we find about loneliness or sleep or consumer behavior and then expand on it. We hope that policy-makers will look at what we find and begin to see trends and work with us to see if trends really are trends. We hope that companies, particularly those supporting our research, will look at what we find and use it. Ultimately, we hope that our findings will help the Internet to realize its immense potential. Everyone knows the Internet's extraordinary capacity for good and everyone knows the dangers. Our job is to help as much as possible to increase the good and minimize the bad.

Q: How has the Internet changed your own life?

A: We can communicate with the entire world instantaneously at very little cost. There is the ability to learn something 24 hours a day. I love the ability to be in Singapore or Sweden or France and be totally connected to my life. I'm much happier, for example, when I'm on vacation and I can check in with the office and in five minutes know everything is all right. When I want to be away from my daily routine, I simply turn it off.

Q: What is next?

A: This year we have created the best snapshot we could of America and technology. But it is a snapshot, a still picture. Next year it becomes a moving picture. We'll see movement - we'll see non-users change into users, we'll see users become advanced users, we'll see non-users who stay non-users. We'll be able to watch how broadband Internet access changes our use. We may also want to look at the influence of the Internet in politics, particularly as we may be moving toward casting our votes on-line. We also want to clearly explain the role of new technology in the 2000 presidential election. It definitely played a role; we just don't know how great a role.

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