Growth Slows For Internet, Social Media Usage And Other Digital Technologies

Growth in digital technologies—the internet, social media and mobile devices—has slowed among U.S. consumers over the past two years. In a survey conducted this year by Pew Research Center, shares of U.S. adults who use the internet, social media and own a smartphone or tablet closely match results the firm measured in 2016—internet usage ticked up only one percentage point from 88 percent to 89 percent in 2018, while social media use and smartphone ownership are flat at 69 percent and 77 percent, respectively.

Pew Research points to near saturation in some segments of the population for this slow-down. Among adults under 50, 97 percent use the internet, 91 percent have a smartphone and 82 percent use social media; 97 percent of college graduates use the internet, 91 percent own a smartphone and 79 percent use social media; and among households with incomes over $75,000, 98 percent use the internet, 93 percent have smartphones and 77 percent use social media. In effect, few non-users remain.

While these digital technologies, what Pew Research describes as “long-standing measures of technology adoption” have stabilized, how people remain digitally connected and the platforms they use continue to shift, opening new opportunities for businesses to connect with customers. Over the past two years, desktop and laptop computer ownership slipped from 78 percent to 73 percent in the survey, while the share of people who are smartphone-only internet users—they have no traditional home broadband connection—has grown from 12 percent to 20 percent.

And although social media usage is flat, consumers’ attention to different platforms is shifting. In 2016, 28 percent of adults were on Instagram. In 2018, its 35 percent. Similarly, while smartphone usage has stabilized, consumer usage of smart TVs and wearable devices is up, and 46 percent of Americans use digital voice assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa.

Pew Research’s analysis notes, “Ultimately, the method for tracking certain adoption metrics may need to change. A canvassing of experts by the Center suggested that it might make sense in the near future to stop asking people if they ‘use the internet’ because it will be so ubiquitous. Those experts predicted that the internet would become ‘like electricity’—almost invisible to users, yet more deeply embedded in their lives.”

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