The Not-So-United States of Technology

Americans are increasingly polarized on the many ways in which technology both moves us forward and sets us back

Aug 22, 2013, 05:00 ET from Harris Interactive

NEW YORK, Aug. 22, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Fear of technology's impact on our lives is nothing new.  Just as many fear social media and email are negatively impacting how we communicate with one another today, many new developments throughout history have been met with fear of the changes they would bring. The philosopher Plato famously objected to the very notion of written words, for fear that committing thoughts and events to paper would erode our ability to retain such things through memory alone. Swiss biologist Conrad Gessner decried the printing press, cautioning that it would leave in its wake a "confusing and harmful abundance of books" which would provide people with, put simply, too much information. And yet, the relentless march of technology, and information available, continues to march on – relentlessly, some might say.

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Even today, Americans are divided on how technology impacts the way we live our lives. On the one hand, strong majorities believe that technology has improved the overall quality of their lives (71%) and encourages people to be more creative (65%). But, at the same time, strong majorities also believe technology is creating a lazy society (76%), has become too distracting (69%) and is corrupting interpersonal communications (68%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,210 U.S. adults surveyed online between June 12 and 17, 2013 by Harris Interactive.

"Warm fuzzies" for technology show year-over-year declines
Americans' collective assessment of technology's impact on everyday life appears to have suffered a bit over the past year. In comparison to June of 2012, Americans have become more likely to indicate that technology has become too distracting (from 65% in 2012 to 69% in 2013) and less likely to agree that it has improved the overall quality of their lives (78%-71%), that they use technology as an escape from their busy lives (53%-47%) and that it enhances their social lives (56%-52%).

There also appears to be year-over-year erosion in how Americans feel technology is affecting several aspects of their lives. Though Americans are consistently more likely to report a positive impact than a negative one for all aspects tested, many of these perceived positive effects have declined in comparison to 2012:

  • My work productivity (down from 42% in 2012 to 34% in 2013)
  • My work life (41%-34%)
  • My safety and security (42%-36%)
  • My productivity at home (39%-34%)
  • Relationships with my family (43%-39%)

Additionally, the perception that technology has a negative effect on safety and security has grown by a third in the same period, from 15% in 2012 to 20% in 2013.

Despite all these concerns about technology, clearly Americans still have a hard time unplugging. When faced with a list of technological devices and general life staples and asked how long they could live without each, majorities of Americans indicated that they could make it a week or less without Internet access (68%), a computer/laptop (64%), television (57%) or a mobile phone (56%), with roughly one-fourth going so far as to state outright that they simply could not live without them (28%, 24%, 23% and 26%, respectively). Just to add a dash of perspective, fewer than half (43%) said they could only make it a week or less (or not at all) without sex, with two in ten (20%) saying they could not live without it – period.

Tech savvy doesn't necessarily translate to tech love
These divergent perspectives on technology are not limited to U.S. adults at large; a comparison of Americans by generation reveals an equally complex picture. A recent Harris Poll confirmed what we likely all know – that younger generations are more likely to own such high tech goodies. However, this should not be taken to mean that these younger Americans are more affectionate towards technology. In fact, Echo Boomers are consistently more likely than their older counterparts to indicate that technology has a negative impact on every tested aspect of their lives. Some examples of this include:

  • My productivity at home (33% Echo Boomers, 21% Gen Xers, 18% Baby Boomers, 13% Matures).
  • My safety and security (25%, 19%, 17%, and 14%, respectively).
  • Relationships with my family (18%, 10%, 7%, and 5%, respectively).
  • My work productivity (17%, 9%, 3% and 4%, respectively)
  • My happiness (15%, 6%, 5% and 4%, respectively).

And yet even with a higher likelihood to see negative effects of technology on their lives, younger Americans nonetheless prove to be less willing to part with their goodies, with Echo Boomers and Gen Xers (33% and 30%, respectively) more likely than Baby Boomers (22%) or Matures (16%) to indicate that they could not live without a mobile phone.

Mind the (gender) gap
Men and women both appear conflicted on how technology impacts their lives, with each group standing out in their ability to see different positive and negative aspects of this relationship.

  • Men are more likely than women to agree that technology has improved the overall quality of their lives (76% men, 68% women) and that it encourages people to be more creative (69% men, 61% women). Men are also more likely to believe technology has a positive impact on several functional aspects of their lives, such as their safety and security (40% men, 33% women), their work productivity (38% men, 31%, women) and their productivity at home (38% men, 30% women). However, men are more likely to see technology as having a negative effect on their lives in more emotional areas such as their happiness (11% men, 6% women) and their social life (10% men, 6% women).
  • Women also show some conflicting emotions toward tech. On the one hand, they are more likely than men to believe it has a positive effect on their relationships with friends (51% women, 44% men) and their happiness (44% women, 37% men); on the other hand, they're more likely to believe it has a negative effect on their productivity at home (25% women, 20% men). Women are also more likely than men to agree that technology has become too distracting (73% women, 64% men).

Additionally, women are more likely than men (25% and 20%, respectively) to indicate that they could not live without television – and the men may want to hand the remote over promptly when asked, as women are twice as likely as them to indicate that they could live without sex (27% women, 13% men)!

To see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between June 12 and 17, 2013 among 2,210 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #54, August 22, 2013
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Harris Interactive
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