Sure, we might complain about information overload from time to time. But, on the whole, Americans believe the Internet has helped them be better informed about the world, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.
An overwhelming majority (87%) of adults who spend time online say the Internet has improved their ability to learn new things about issues that matter to their lives. Survey participants reported being better informed on a variety of topics, with consumer products, national and international news, and popular culture topping the list.
Only 26% of respondents said they felt like victims of information overload, while 72% of people said they enjoyed having access to so much information.
Social media tools such as Facebook seem to be making a difference in the positive feelings people have about sharing information, Pew researchers noted. In 2014, 72% of survey participants said the Internet made it easier for them to share ideas and creations. That’s up significantly from 2006, when 55% of respondents said it was easier for them to share ideas.
Additionally, more people said it was easier to stay in touch with friends and family than it was five years ago. Among respondents, 67% said they were better informed about what their friends were doing than they were previously, and 60% said they were better informed about their family.
Local civic organizations, however, may be disappointed to find that people said the Internet increased their awareness least when it came to local affairs. Only 39% said the Internet gave them more information about their neighborhood and neighbors, while 49% said they were more informed about civic activities.
Still, the results showed an overwhelmingly positive reaction to increased access to information. That was also the case when people were asked about others, such as whether an “average American” or “today’s students” were better informed thanks to online access. About three-quarters of respondents said they thought those groups were better informed, with just 8% saying they thought average Americans and students were less informed.
The survey revealed demographic differences: Internet users younger than 50 tended to report more positive impressions about their ability to learn new things, while those older than 65 reported some of the least impact. Additionally, people with higher incomes and more education reported a greater impact on their ability to learn from the Internet.
The survey, which was conducted in September and released in December 2014, had a sample of 1,066 adult Internet users. The Pew Research Center is a Washington-based nonpartisan group that seeks to inform the public about issues, thoughts and trends shaping America and the world.