The Internet and the Experience Effect: A Closer Look

Rachel Kirk, Middle Tennessee State University
Steve Bales, University of Tennessee

The Pew Center Internet and American Life Project published a report in 2001 called “Getting Serious Online” that drew a conclusion that as Internet Users become more experienced, they engage in more serious pursuits on-line, moving from games to banking, for example. As a project for a Ph.D. class, Rachel and Steve decided to use a General Social Survey (GSS) data set, taken from a survey in 2002, about “The Information Society” to corroborate the Pew report. Much to their surprise, it did not.

The GSS survey asked people which web sites that they visited in the last thirty days and how many times. Rachel and Steve divided those into recreation and serious web sites and found no correlation between how many years that a person had been using the web to what type of sites they visited. They also checked if the type of sites visited was a function of age and this also did not correlate. Instead, they found that as people gained web experience, they visited more of all types of sites—a finding that more recent Pew reports seem to corroborate.

Steve noted the “netizen” effect. People who have three or more years experience tend to become citizens of the Internet, using it for most information needs, serious and recreational.

Rachel’s personal theory, although she doesn’t have the data to back it up, is that people “get into grooves and kind of follow them along until something knocks them into another one.” An implication of this observation is that we can’t necessarily assume that what we teach freshmen in a one-shot library use instruction class during an English literature course will be transferred by the student into other situations, like a history or psychology class the next semester. We may need to expose them to new grooves as they have a need for that groove.