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Going online for fun and diversion – what’s that mean, anyway?

Pew Research asks about the Internet and ‘fun’.   New this month: The Internet as Diversion and Destination, offering the results of a survey about the use of the Internet, with answers by age to a question: "Did you go ever go online for no particular reason, just for fun, or to pass the time?" They also asked about whether they did so "yesterday," the day before they were surveyed – which is cute, but "yesterday" as a source of meaningful information is, well, so yesterday. The headliner was about the 53% percent of young adults (18-29) who admitted that yesterday they did, while only 27% of boomers and 12% of seniors allocated a piece of their yesterday for this, uh, purpose. This is a frustrating question that Pew does not analyze, nor does it probe further, so speculation clearly is expected.

What does this yesterday-and-the-Internet tell you? Well, first of all, these young people have more time, maybe an additional diversion -- they could be using the Internet to find work or a better job -- since 25% of teens are unemployed and 44% of the 18-29 age range are "delaying making a life change or a purchase because of economic fears." And what percentage of the older adult population has high-speed access -- the enabler of idling away so much of yesterday? Because of course, to have broadband (which should become cheaper for some seniors in 2012) is to enable going online 'for no particular reason.' As of 2010, Pew says that 63% of those aged 50-64 have broadband (the new survey reveals that 50% of this population are online for fun and diversion) and 31% of the 65+ have broadband (23% online for fun and diversion).

Online for fun and diversion, what's up with that? Pew notes that the folks with broadband are likely viewing video (like Netflix streaming for high bandwidth buyers), and fans of social networking.  While they’re online – what might they be doing with no particular ‘purpose’? Let’s assume they aren’t just staring at the world clock ticking away. Let’s assume that people eventually make their way to the Google search box, take a look at the news, the stock market, and maybe find a few good restaurants. They may discover other diversions: online games (29% of online gamers are 50+), online learning, which is pulling people away from traditional  classrooms, or buying online – 15% more this year than last year (that’s $30 billion of fun!).  Maybe they’re fond of particular blogs – 53.5% of Internet users read blogs – and there were 152 million of them to be read during 2010.

Fun and diversion online – warning, there’s no such thing.  Each of the fun and diverting time wasters (as implied by the Pew question and answer) on the Internet is a market now or in the future for someone else.  All first time users (and 69% of seniors are, according to Pew, yet to even become first-time Internet users) are either buyers-to-be and viewers of ads, participants in social engagement (also viewing ads), and they will soon be ready to upgrade their slow and clumsy technologies, maybe even to sleeker tablets and smarter phones!).  But none are staring aimlessly at blank screens, having no particular purpose, waiting for the online paint to peel.

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