Wireless Access Affects Online Behavior

A new report from PEW Internet in American Life reveals that..

Some 34% of internet users have logged onto the internet using a wireless connection either around the house, at their workplace, or some place else. *

In Wireless Internet Access, John Horrigan reports of all Internet users, 27% have logged on to the Internet wirelessly at places other than home or work, 19% have access to wireless networks at home, and 13% have PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) that can access wireless networks.  What is most interesting to me (and I’m not sure why yet) is the number of wireless Internet users who access the Net without cables from places other than home or work.  Not surprising (given the cost of wireless routers) 88% of wireless users do so at home.  However, more than half of wireless users (57%) access the Internet outside of home/work environments.  This would include hotels, coffee shops and other service environments, libraries, and the growing number of municipal wireless regions.

To me, this report points to increasing opportunities to access the Internet for information in more casual (not requiring direct wiring) contexts, and our predilection toward doing so.  As someone who is interesting in determining the literacy skills we should be helping our children to develop, I am curious about what people do with wireless access to the Internet.  Do they connect for a specific information experience, such as reading a particular blog or aggregation of blogs, or are they conducting research, googling a sudden topic of interest.  Or are they doing work or homework.

In other words, is this new.  For years we’ve carried books with us to read at the coffee shop, under a tree, or on the train.  We haven’t, however, carried encyclopedias around with us, and we haven’t made a habit of working so casually outside of the context of our workplaces.  Does this really constitute a change in information behavior — an even deeper reliance on distant information?

The study did indicate that wireless users do tend to get their personal correspondence and new more regularly than do non-wireless users —

Wireless Home
All Internet
E-mail Each Day 72% 63% 54%
Get News Each Day 46% 38% 31%

* Horrigan, John. “Wireless Internet Access.” Reports: Internet Evolution. 25 Feb 2007. PEW Internet in American Life Project. 26 Feb 2007 <http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/203/report_display.asp>.
Image Citation:
Laurent, Olivier. “Wifi.” Olivier C. Laurent’s Photostream. 22 Sept 2006. 26 Feb 2007 <http://flickr.com/photos/olivierclaurent/250099408/>.

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11 thoughts on “Wireless Access Affects Online Behavior”

  1. There is a little fuel station a few miles from my home that has a wifi parking bay. So, if you pull off the road to refuel both your car and yourself, you can take a moment while you drink your coffee to log on and check out what’s happening in your world. Most civilised.

    It’s not on a major motorway, nor is it a particularly landmark place, and of course, by the time I get there, I might as well drive another 10 minutes and log on from home. I just wish that their example would be emulated by the sorts of places I stop for coffee on my travels to and from clients!

  2. This weekend I flew from Phoenix to Las Vegas. I was at both airports early and both have free wifi access. I used my PDA to pretty much do the stuff you listed above: email, check Google Reader, New Articles, flight status, and worked on an online class I’m taking.

    There were a large amount of people at both airports with laptops open working (or playing) on the Internet. It was great to feel like I could catch up a bit before I got home after a weekend of being away (and surprised to find out that you could see the Luxor from space, but they charge you $12 a day for a wired Internet connection).

  3. I live in a pretty small town in Northwest Georgia, but my favorite Mexican restaurant has recently added WiFi. I often find myself taking my laptop in while I enjoy my quesadillas! I think it’s the only place in town that has WiFi, but I am hoping that more will jump on board. It helps me keep up on my feeds in Google Reader.

  4. I find I go wireless a lot – not just to keep up on work or the blogs. If I am curious about something I just look it up, if I am board I may explore youtube. I seem to do more work then I did before internet access was everywhere. I do miss being able to leave work at work. The skating rink where my daughter and I (as her driver) spend a great deal of time is wireless. I do my work there, check up on email, some kids go online for homework in between skating sessions. Even the gym where I work out is wireless, though I do not usually bring the laptop to the gym. I like the idea that the ‘net is there when I want. I do wish though that the expectation to work 24/7 (because you can) would go away however.

  5. For Christmas I gave my husband a device called Slingbox. It allows you to watch your own tv via your laptop. You can also watch programs you recorded with DVR and even program your DVR to record. It’s very cool, not too difficult to set up, and it works!!! We sat in the airport and watched tv on a recent trip.

  6. When I really think about it I realize that I usually am going online to check email, news updates, and information being posted regarding to any of my current classes. I have, however, also found myself wandering around the internet, almost blindly, as to fulfill a time period of boredom I might encounter. I have discovered through differing blogs and talking to others, that the majority of the reasons why people are so obsessed with the ability to constantly be wireless, is truly dependent upon their age. Some are on laptops constantly for it is their work, and even away from the office if the work can be completed, than it must. Younger crowds are often logging in at coffee shops to finish class assignments and post their latest pictures from the weekend prior. I even have classmates that bring their laptops to the classroom with them. They electronically type their class notes, and often will browse the web while a lecture is going on. I have, in addition, even seen individuals logged on at my gym either before or after their workouts. What my observations have allowed me to discover is that individuals are often logging onto the wireless internet for they are able to. It has simply become part of society that is turning up almost anywhere. This occurrence I am unsure of if it makes me happy or upsets me that once again our communities are turning to become so dependent upon yet another device. It is so true when you mention that most individuals once carried books with them and actually left their work at the office. With information being able to be retrieved so quickly, I do not find this trend of having a laptop with you constantly decreasing within the very remote future.

  7. Get ready. In the transitional period we’re in, you still need to be at the WiFi Mexican Restaurant or (my personal LA favorite) the WiFi Car Wash, or have a relatively expensive cell-based device, but in 3-5 years Internet access will be as common as an AM Radio signal. (I was going to say “like water or air” but both are in short supply where I live 🙂 In the world our students will graduate into – and the world that many of them live in now with WiFi on campus – Internet everywhere will be an assumption, and noticeable only when it’s absent. That’s the world we have to imagine and educate our students for.

  8. I’m a firm believer in the validity and power of wireless networking… Except in two regards.

    First, there’s bandwidth. Wireless signals currently top out at 54Mbps for an 802.11g network. While this is fine for home use, where internet speeds are rarely above 3-6Mbps, it becomes more of an issue out in public. I know the trend is for T1 lines to feed the wireless, but you eventually will reach a ceiling to data transfer if the municipality hasn’t planned far enough ahead. Perhaps this exemplifies why e-mail and webbrowsing are more common in non-home environments: They are less bandwidth intensive applications, on average.

    Secondly, there is security. WEP was flawed out of the gate, and more secure systems aren’t the most user-friendly to set up. This gets worse in public, where you have absolutely no idea what the people around you are doing. And intent is a whole other matter. Not enough is being done, in my personal opinion, to teach basic wifi security. At home, we use “one touch” solutions and forget about them.

    Speaking of teaching, the explosion in wireless access points leads to a very interesting conundrum for teachers. At current, it’s pretty much mandatory to have a PC in college, and most are switching to laptops. Now, when I was in primary and secondary education, it was the mid-90’s; computers were just starting their emergence. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t think it will be long before wifi laptops are the standard in classrooms. MIT’s $100 laptop project just shows where this movement is heading, even if that is aimed at 3rd world countries.

    So what happens to the internet experience for students when they switch from cell phones and texting to laptops and full-blown communication? The screens, more often than not, will be hidden from the teacher… And let’s not kid ourselves, students will find ways to mess with the computers, or cheat, or other issues of morality like this. And with wifi activated laptops… Well, the two issues above seem to explode even further.

    Personally, I think this would be an interesting topic of debate: What does research say about cell phone and laptop wifi in the classroom? Has there been any research? And how does one adapt their teaching and learning styles to reflect the data under one’s fingertips? All these are questions facing teachers in the next decade… And I can only hope that a whole generation of kids don’t miss out as we move too slowly to adapt.

  9. The emergence of wifi for broad use in schools is linked, in my opinion, to the emergence of a truley affordable, useful, durable, and maintainable wireless computer solution for students. From what I can see, that solution doesn’t really exist yet; the Alphasmart NEO is in the right price range but is essentially a word processor, e-book readers tanked, PDA’s have limited screen size, and giving every student a laptop is, for most places I think, economically inviable esp. taking into account long-term support and replacement issues.

    I wonder why the OPLC “$100 Laptop” project is limited to third-world countries. No demand for that kind of product here?

    Wired networks are still better if your primary computer assets are desktops. Notebook carts are nice and typically come with their own dedicated wireless access point. I think that wireless devices will take off in schools when something akin to the devices being offered by OPLC becomes commonplace and economics favor wireless devices over textbooks as the primary means of accessing content.

  10. I recently returned from vacation in Mexico. 6 years ago the town did not have electricity, this year I took my laptop and wirelessly accessed the Internet to check my email (all 3 accounts), keep up with my news aggregator and blogs, and the reason why I hauled the computer down there – score watch a basketball game. I also did some work – collaborating on a document using Google docs. One other note – I pulled over in downtown LA – “borrowed” a unprotected home access point and Mapquested directions just last year.

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