A broad survey about the technology people have, how they use it, and what they think about it shatters assumptions and reveals where companies might be able to expand their audiences.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that adult Americans are broadly divided into three groups: 31 percent are elite technology users, 20 percent are moderate users and the remainder have little or no usage of the Internet or cell phones.
But Americans are divided within each group, according to a Pew analysis of 2006 data released Sunday.
The high-tech elites, for instance, are almost evenly split into:
— "Omnivores," who fully embrace technology and express themselves creatively through blogs and personal Web pages.
— "Connectors," who see the Internet and cell phones as communications tools.
— "Productivity enhancers," who consider technology as largely ways to better keep up with their jobs and daily lives.
— "Lackluster veterans," those who use technology frequently but aren't thrilled by it.
John Horrigan, Pew's associate director, said he started the survey believing that the more gadgets people have, the more they are likely to embrace technology and use so-called Web 2.0 applications for generating and sharing content with the world.
"Once we got done, we were surprised to find the tensions within groups of users with information technology," Horrigan said.
Many longtime Internet users, the lackluster veterans, remain stuck in the decade-old technologies they started with, Horrigan said. That a quarter of high-tech elites fall into this category, he said, shows untapped potential for companies that can design next-generation applications to pique this group's interest.
The moderate users were also evenly divided into "mobile centrics," those who primarily use the cell phone for voice, text messaging and even games, and "connected but hassled," those who have used technology but find it burdensome.
Mobile companies, he said, can target the mobile centrics with premium services, especially once faster wireless networks become available.
The Pew study found 15 percent of all Americans have neither a cell phone nor an Internet connection. Another 15 percent use some technology and are satisfied with what it currently does for them, while 11 percent use it intermittently and find connectivity annoying.
Eight percent — mostly women in the early 50s — occasionally use technology and might use more given more experience. They tend to still be on dial-up access and represent potential high-speed customers "with the right constellation of services offered," Horrigan said.
The telephone study of 4,001 U.S. adults, including 2,822 Internet users, was conducted Feb. 15 to April 6, 2006, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.