A decade after browsers came into popular use, the Internet has reached into–and, in some cases, reshaped–just about every important realm of modern life. It has changed the way we inform ourselves, amuse ourselves, care for ourselves, educate ourselves, work, shop, bank, pray and stay in touch.

On a typical day at the end of 2004, some 70 million American adults logged onto the Internet to use email, get news, access government information, check out health and medical information, participate in auctions, book travel reservations, research their genealogy, gamble, seek out romantic partners, and engage in countless other activities. That represents a 37 percent increase from the 51 million Americans who were online on an average day in 2000 when the Pew Internet & American Life Project began its study of online life.

For the most part, the online world mirrors the offline world. People bring to the Internet the activities, interests, and behaviors that preoccupied them before the Web existed. Still, the Internet has also enabled new kinds of activities that no one ever dreamed of doing before–certainly not in the way people are doing them now. For example, on a typical day, 5 million people post or share some kind of material on the Web through their own Web logs (or “blogs”) or other content-creating applications; at least 4 million share music files on peer-to-peer networks; and 3 million people use the Internet to rate a person, product, or service.

The Web has become the “new normal” in the American way of life; those who don’t go online constitute an ever-shrinking minority. And as the online population has grown rapidly, its composition has changed rapidly. At the infant stage, the Internet’s user population was dominated by young, white men who had high incomes and plenty of education. As it passed into its childhood years in 1999 and 2000, the population went mainstream; women reached parity and then overtook men online, lots more minority families joined the party, and more people with modest levels of income and education came online.

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