It wasn’t so long ago that the idea that nearly 4.5 billion people across the globe would be using the internet seemed like a pipedream rather than an obvious part of our modern world. The internet was once seen as a niche platform that most people would only sporadically use, whereas recently the Pew Research Center founds that roughly three-in-ten US adults claim that they are “almost constantly”online. Still, there is a sizable portion of the population that doesn’t use the internet regularly, and the biggest question many of them ask is quite simple: what do all of these people DO online?
It’s a worthwhile question: the internet is a big part of how people spend their day-to-day lives, so it makes sense to ask what purpose the internet tends to serve and how people spend their time online.
It should be little surprise that one of the major reasons that people spend time online is to communicate with others. After all, this was the original purpose of the internet, as it was originally developed as a communication network. Of course, how we communicate online has changed considerably over the past few decades, though there are a few constants. For instance, despite near-constant claims that email was being phased out by the rise of social media, it has remained consistently popular, with an average of 281 billion emails being sent and received daily in 2018 alone.
Despite the continued popularity of this old standby however, social media is still the most popular way to communicate with people online. Though it first saw usage in the early ‘90s, social media changed considerably in the mid-‘00s, and now the modern social media model has arguably monopolized how we experience the internet. It has been estimated that there will be over 3 billion social network users worldwide by 2021, and it has already been noted nearly three-quarters of Facebook sizable user base visit the site at least once a day.
Whether it is to keep up with recent news and events or to learn something new entirely, one of the major reasons people frequent the internet is to gather information of some kind. As more traditional news media like television and newspapers have declined in popularity, internet news sites and social media platforms have filled that void, allowing for instant access to breaking news and many opportunities to follow events as they happen. However, there is an odd conflict between how many people seek out news online and how many actually trust that news: Pew recently found that 55% of U.S. adults get their news from social media either “often” or “sometimes,” yet many studies have shown that the overall trust in these sources is often low, with many users fearing that online news outlets proliferate fake or exaggerated stories.
With the rise of Amazon and other online shopping services, the internet has become almost inseparable with the average consumer’s spending habits. Not only has this given major retail brands a new method to reach customers, but it has also allowed smaller businesses to achieve success by targeting very specific audiences by filling a particular niche. Online shopping has grown into a trillion-dollar industry, and even though many people still prefer the in-store experience, those who shop offline still often consult online reviews, videos, and other content when deciding what to buy.
Just as online alternatives steadily replaced more traditional news media for most people, the internet has replaced TV and radio for many people. Rather than sit down for a television show airing at a certain time, audiences are more likely to record it digitally and watch it later, or more likely to watch it through an online streaming service like Netflix. Music has also gone increasingly digital, with Spotify currently having 248+ million monthly active users and digital streaming making up the majority of the music industry’s profits. Podcasts have also become quite popular in the past few years, with 23% of Americans listening to a podcast a few times a week.
Work & School
The internet has become so entrenched in our daily lives that not only is it a fundamental part of how we spend our free time, it is also how many of us work. Besides the fact that many working professionals will use the internet for research purposes, there are also millions of people who work from home and operate heavily online. This comes both due to increasingly fast internet connections and the general demand for workplace flexibility. Education is also increasingly going digital, with millions of students applying for college, conducting research, and taking classes online. Many schools actually schedule out-of-school e-learning days for students to stay home and study online.
Keep In Mind
Despite the massive proliferation of the internet and the part that it plays in many people’s lives, there are still a not-insignificant number of people who avoid the internet altogether, with a recent study finding that 10% of American adults do not use the internet. There are many reasons for this, but most of them are either matters of personal preference or economic necessity: those who don’t use the internet often find little value in being online or just don’t feel that it is relevant to their lives, while others find it too expensive to own and maintain a computer. That said, the majority of those surveyed who do not use the internet are also 65 years of age or older, so the number of people using the internet is likely to increase over time. Even if you are not a regular internet user, your children or grandchildren probably are (or will be). As such, it is important to cut through the confusion, do your research, and understand just what it is that people do online.