Poll: Americans Dependent on Gadgets

Personal computers, cell phones and high-speed Internet are considered essential to getting by for millions of Americans who are showing early signs of addiction to the next wave of high-tech toys, an AP-Ipsos poll found.

The latest wave includes MP3 players like iPods — popular with everyone from the kid next door to President Bush — high-definition television and digital video recorders like TiVo.

Some people freely admit to being high-tech junkies.

"The Internet connection is my lifeline," said Jennifer Strother, a mother of two young children who lives in Smithfield, Va. "It's the connection to friends, e-mail — especially for stay-at-home moms. I'm hungry for adult conversation and any news that isn't 'Dora the Explorer' or 'Blue's Clues.'"

One of her favorite gadgets is her TiVo, which allows her to record programming for her husband and herself as well as her children's favorites.

The bill for being thoroughly plugged in to entertainment and communications runs more than $200 a month for a third of the households in this country. Four in 10 spend between $100 and $150 a month, according to the poll of 1,006 adults taken Dec. 13-15.

William Grantmyre spends more than $500 a month on communications, entertainment and the Internet at his two homes, one in Cary, N.C., and one at the beach. The attorney says he has no choice.

"TVs, cable or DirecTV, cellular phones, high-speed Internet," Grantmyre said. "All of those things are pretty essential in today's world."

Almost half of personal computer owners say they can't imagine life without their computers. About as many cell phone owners say the same thing about their portable phones.

The intense loyalty to high-speed Internet is a sign that people are getting hooked on newer technology. Almost four in 10 people with high-speed Internet say they consider it essential. About two in 10 feel that way about their DVD players, digital cable and CD players.

"Our culture is about distraction, numbing oneself," said David Greenfield, a Connecticut psychologist who specializes in high-tech issues. "There is no self-reflection, no sitting still. It's absolutely exhausting."

The number of people owning high-tech gizmos continues to grow.

High-tech items mentioned most often as sought-after gifts this holiday season were DVD players, MP3 players, cell phones and video-game consoles.

Penny Entsminger of Milton, Fla., was buying plenty of electronic gadgets for her children.

"I already bought quite a few, including computer games like Xbox and other things," she said.

Why the emphasis on electronic goods?

"Because that's what kids want," Entsminger said. "It's something they asked for."

Interest in high-tech gadgets tailed off a bit a couple of years ago, but appears to be making a strong comeback, industry watchers say.

"There is more interest in these products," said Stephen Baker, an analyst of the high-tech market. "Pricing is more reasonable. They're getting smaller, more mobile."

Gadgets from an earlier wave of technology, including DVD players, CD players and cell phones, are now in most homes. But the next wave hasn't saturated the market yet.

About four in 10 have video-game consoles like the Xbox. About a fourth have MP3 players like the iPod. One household in seven has satellite radio, the poll found.

The appeal of different high-tech products differs from group to group. Those 65 and over were less likely to have those items, and were less likely to consider them essential.

"For the most part, the appeal of these devices is very generational," said Rob Enderle, a California-based high-tech analyst. "In many cases, as you move up in age, it becomes increasingly a male audience."

Men were more likely than women to have personal computers, Internet access and MP3 players. Those who make more than $50,000 a year were more likely to have Internet access, digital video recorders and MP3 players than those who made less.

For so many people to consider high-tech gadgetry essential to modern life is no surprise to Greenfield, the psychologist who specializes in Internet addiction.

"Part of the reason is the hype, the commercial selling of it," he said. "Some people feel the products will improve the quality of their lives. But do we really need to be connected in every way, shape or form?"