American social media, mobile device use in elections rising: Pew study

Pew Internet logoAmericans are using mobile devices and social media for election purposes more than ever before, according to a new Pew report.  This is a useful observation about how Americans use digital technology, with implications for teaching and learning.

You should read the report, which is concise.  But I’ll pull out a couple of details.

First, increasing numbers of people use social media to learn about election issues.  We do so for a variety of reasons, which map nicely on to our general online (and offline) behavior: to compete with other people, to get information beyond traditional outlets, and to connect with campaigns.

Second, mobile phone use just keeps growing and deepening.  Note the demographic breakdown here:

mobile phones_elections_2014-11-03 Pew

The report’s author, Aaron Smith, emphasizes the huge increase in the 30-49-year-old population’s use of mobile phones.  I’d add to this the big disparity in mobile habits between the under-49 group (nearly one half using phones) and the 50+ set (less than a quarter, heading towards 10%).  The overall picture is one wherein we can no longer see teenagers as sole tech gurus – I suspect a big part of that is aging, plus the oft-ignored technological fluency of my generation, the first “digital natives”: Generation X.

Also in that picture: seniors continue to lag in tech adoption.  It’s not news, and we don’t often talk about it, but there it is.

Why does this matter for teaching and learning?

To begin with, the report suggests that the younger half of the professoriate and staff are increasingly digitally immersed, at least when it comes to mobile and social.  It reminds us of the gulf in practice between part of the campus population and senior administrators.

This Pew study also reminds us of how digital communication has changed.  The world is increasingly mobile and social, as some of us have been saying for a long, long time.  This means taking seriously changes to scholarly communication, publishing, courseware, campus outreach, alumni networking, etc.

Smith’s work also reinforces the lesson that the digital and offline worlds are very interconnected.  The report notes connections between online political interest and analog engagement.  We can’t dismiss the online world as radically separate from “our” offline, traditional world.


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