How do people use digital, social media? A new Edison survey

How do people actually use technology?  This line of inquiry is vital for anyone remotely interested in education and technology, as well as for those of us investigating the future of education.  It’s important to get good data on real-world uses, as opposed to speculation, hype, rumor, or style pieces.

One useful example comes from Edison Research.  They do annual surveys of the American population (much like Pew Research, whose I follow closely and rely heavily upon).  I recommend paging through their presentation; here I’ll draw out the details that most impressed me.

First, some major shifts are happening around which social media platforms people use.  Facebook and Twitter are declining, while Instagram rises:

social media usage 2017-2019_Edison

The changes are especially sharp among younger people:

social media use ages 12-34_2015-2019_Edison Research

Watch Facebook plummet there, while Instagram and especially Snap just soar.

Second, speaking of ages, note the big age differences in who uses YouTube to listen to music/watch music videos:

YouTube for music_by age_2017-2019_Edison Research

It’s easy to overstate generational differences by technology use, but this one is quite clear.  Meanwhile, YouTube for music as a whole is rising.

(Anecdotally, YouTube is by far my favorite source for music.)

Third, look at podcasting’s continued growth.  According to Edison, we just passed a milestone, with the majority of adults claiming to have listened to a podcast:

podcast listening_2006-2019_Edison Research

As someone who has listened to and taught podcasting for more than a decade, as well as someone who has a radio announcer in the family heritage, this is very gratifying.

So what can we distill from these datapoints?

Facebook seems to be reeling, at least in part from a multi-year reputational hit.  Nothing comparable is replacing it.  Instead, people, especially young folks, are shifting to very different platforms based on photos (Instagram) or messaging (Snap).

How much further will this go? I can imagine Facebook becoming the adult/old person network, like LinkedIn.  At the same time Zuckerberg’s recent decision to emphasize encrypted messaging suggests an alternative route, where Facebook becomes more like Snap.

Podcasting is finally breaking into the mainstream.  That makes for an interesting case study of technological development and adoption.  Digital audio dates back to the 20th century, of course, but the term “podcast” first appears in 2004, after the iPod had been on the market since 2001.  Podcasting as a form grew but remained out of the limelight most of the time. (I followed it closely, and found the market mostly amateur.)  It took the NPR Serial podcast to kick off a second wave, which is still building as I write this.  So: a longer term growth arc marked by two distinct phases.

In honor of podcasting’s triumph, allow me to return to the classic Ask a Ninja’s explanation:

Further, we see technology use differences by age continue to express themselves.

Does Edison’s research match up with your experience?

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6 Responses to How do people use digital, social media? A new Edison survey

  1. Sandy Brown Jensen says:

    Very interesting data. Thank you for finding it and distilling your wisdom from it.

  2. Ted Major says:

    Interesting to see the data on podcasting. Anecdotally, for the first time since the term was coined, several of my colleagues have asked me whether I listen to podcasts over the course of this academic year.

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