A new Pew Research Center survey shows people fall into a spectrum ranging from enthusiastic to wary when it comes to dealing with information and improving digital skills. Whites are the most disengaged. Simply put whites are not interested (Supporters of Treasonous Trump dealing with 21 word Tweets?) and are over-represented in the wary and doubtful categories.
This survey, says Pew, represents a snapshot of where adults are today in a changing information environment. There’s no doubt that technology will change in the future, as will people’s competency in using it. It is also likely that the way people engage information will evolve as technology and its users do.
Americans fall into categories ranging from those “interested and engaged with information to those who are wary and stressed.” The survey explores five distinct groups of people’s engagement with information. It discovers that a pair of elements stand out when it comes to citizens’ enthusiasm for engagement:
- their level of trust in information sources and their interest in learning, particularly when it comes to improving their digital skills. The typology identifies distinct groups ranging from those eager and willing to engage with information with an interest in improving their digital skills…
- to those wary of information sources and not much interest in improving digital skills.
Among the Findings
- Roughly four-in-ten adults (38%) fall into groups that have relatively strong interest and trust in information sources and learning.
- Roughly half of adults (49%) are considered relatively disengaged and not very enthusiastic about information or about gaining more digital training.
- The group most eager to engage with information is majority minority: 31% of this eager-to-learn group are Hispanic, 21% are black, while only 38% are white.
The five groups, according to Pew are: The Eager and Willing (22% of adults), the Confident (16%), the Cautious and Curious (13%), the Doubtful (24%) and the Wary (25%).
- The Eager and Willing and the Confident represent positive information engagement, trust in sources and either interest in learning new digital skills or a firm grasp of digital skills already.
- Nearly half (49%), however, fall into the two groups on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Doubtful (24%) are less interested in news and information than the previous groups and are leery of the sources of the news they consume. The Wary (25%) are the least engaged with information and have the lowest trust in sources of news and information. They also report the least interest in improving their information skills or literacies.
- In the middle of this spectrum lie the Cautious and Curious (13%) who are wary of the sources of their news and information but nonetheless have an eagerness to consume information. They are also interested in improving their digital skills and literacies.
Americans tend to diverge here for many reasons, said Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center director of internet and technology research. “Some seek out information and new ways to consume them, while others are either too busy or too distrustful of sources to engage more fully with information or improve digital skills. Either way, it is clear that Americans consume information in ways that are as complex as they are varied.”
There are complexities in an American information consumer. For instance, information purveyors might need to use very different methods to get material to the Eager and Willing, who are relatively trusting of institutional information and eager to learn, compared with the tactics they might consider in trying to get the attention of the Cautious and Curious, who are open to learning but relatively distrusting of institutional information.
Similarly, groups with messages might want to plan wholly different processes to reach the Confident (who are basically information omnivores), compared with the Wary (who are quite reluctant to engage with new material- say Trump Tweets?).
Challenges faced by those focusing on digital divides and information literacy include nearly half of adults falling into groups less likely to seek assistance to access trustworthy information. This lack of trust also suggests the usefulness of improving access to trusted institutions like libraries.
Those in the two positive engagement groups are over-represented in terms of library use (63% of the Eager and Willing have used a library in the past 12 months, while that share is 58% for the Confident). Both groups are more likely to say libraries are a trusted source of information.
The ratings or labeling was created from what is claimed to be a scientifically rigorous survey – Pew has an outstanding record with its research. It could not cover the vast range of people’s connection to information and the use of it. Similarly, the use of “cluster analysis in the research can yield some fluidity between the boundaries of groups.”