According to a new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a Washington-based research group, 39 percent of the adult population in the US has a "symbiotic" relationship with mobile Internet access.
No surprise there – as the study's author, John Horrigan, notes in a lengthy introduction, "it is easy to see that mobile access to the Internet is taking root in our society. Open laptops or furrowed brows staring at palm-sized screens are evidence of how routinely information is exchanged on wireless networks."
Horrigan says the 39 percent of hyper-connected adults "typically have ready access to high-speed connections at home, which likely pushes them toward deeper home high-speed use... At the same time, the desktop Internet experience migrates to 'on the go' as the handheld becomes a complementary access point to connect with people and digital content wherever a wireless network reaches."
The study further divides that 39 percent into five subdivisions, from "Mobile Newbies," who are still learning how to best harness the power of modern social media, to "Media Movers," who have "a wide range of mobile and online habits." Eight percent are classified as "Digital Collaborators," who use Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr to harness their own creativity, and connect with others.
The real shock is the 7 percent of so-called "Ambivalent Networkers," who have expressed concerns about the constant connectivity of 21st century life. This group finds mobile devices occasionally "intrusive," and think it's a good idea to take a break once in a while from the Internet. (We'll plead the Fifth on which category we fit into. Let's just say that we enjoy the chatter.)
But no matter how noisy the mobile use gets, these "Ambivalent Networkers" find that it's tough to break away from Facebook or MySpace. "If you're in a social milieu like that and you want a break, you may feel like going off the grid would be a bad thing, because you won't know what your friends are up to, you won't know what the plan is for Saturday evening, or you might worry that your friends will be worried if you're not instantly responsive to their queries," Horrigan said in an interview with CNN.com.
Horrigan added that this segment of the population might begin to use their Facebook page or Twitter account "as a means to say, 'Hey guys, I'm shutting down for a while, so don't worry about me if I don't respond to you immediately,' " he said. "I think a challenge for people going forward is to see these tools as tools, meaning you can use them to identify yourself as being offline at a particular moment, and not see them as perpetual obligations to be available at all times to all people."