Middle-aged and white may no longer be a fitting stereotype for today’s mobile Internet aficionado.

What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of an Internet aficionado, circa 1995?


The first image that comes to my mind is Dennis Nedry, the embryo thief in “Jurassic Park,” who met his untimely end facing down a dinosaur in a soggy mud pit. The second is Milton Waddams, the befuddled, staple-hoarding drone from “Office Space.”

But the common characteristics of those two characters — they are both middle-aged and white — may no longer be a fitting stereotype, at least when it comes to today’s mobile Internet aficionado, according to a report released Wednesday by the Internet and American Life Project of the Pew Research Center.

The survey, conducted in April by interviewing 2,253 Americans, found that while accessing the Internet via a mobile phone was increasing, the swell was reflected most sharply among African-Americans.

“The typical early adopter of a dozen years ago was a white guy in his mid- to late thirties,” said John Horrigan, associate director of the Pew Internet Project and principal author on the report. “Now you see the cutting edge in mobile Internet being populated by younger people of color.”  

The report found that nearly half of all African-Americans and English-speaking Hispanics (the study did not include a Spanish-language option) were using mobile phones or other hand-held devices to surf the Web and send e-mail messages. By comparison, just 28 percent of white Americans reported ever going online using a mobile device.

Not only are African-Americans the most active users of mobile Internet, they are also the fastest growing group to adopt the technology: the percentage of African-Americans using mobile phones or another type of connected gadget to share e-mail, exchange instant messages and access the Internet for information on an average day has more than doubled since late 2007, jumping to 29 percent, from 12 percent.

By comparison, 19 percent of Americans over all log on to the Internet on a mobile device on a typical day.

The surge is helping to close a looming digital divide stemming from the high cost of in-home Internet access, which can be prohibitive for some.

“The cost of broadband and personal computers drives some users to adopt mobile Internet instead of the traditional wire-line,” Mr. Horrigan said. “It might make sense to invest the money in a smartphone and a monthly plan that enables you to do so many different things, like make calls and send e-mails.”

The heightened activity among African-Americans and English-speaking Hispanics helps offset lower levels of access to the Internet from traditional outlets, like desktop computers, laptops and home broadband connections. For example, an earlier study conducted by the Internet Project found that African-Americans trailed the national average in broadband access at home.

Mr. Horrigan said the shift was particularly noteworthy because the trends could spark a new wave of mobile development that hasn’t been seen before, one that caters to a different set of online needs and use patterns.

“There’s the potential here for a very rich brew of innovation in the mobile space,” Mr. Horrigan said. “We might see all kinds of applications concocted to serve a population that is much more diverse than a dozen years ago in wire-line access.”

Photo credit: beyond the rhetoric

Via New York Times