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New study shatters Internet 'geek' image

Computer users eager to connect to the Internet took a break at the HDTV Sports Bar at the Consumer Electronics Show last week.
Computer users, eager to connect to the Web, took a break at the HDTV Sports Bar at the Consumer Electronics Show last week.

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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- The typical Internet user -- far from being a geek -- shuns television and actively socializes with friends, a study on surfing habits said on Wednesday.

The findings of the first World Internet Project report present an image of the average Netizen that contrasts with the stereotype of the loner "geek" who spends hours of his free time on the Internet and rarely engages with the real world.

Instead, the typical Internet user is an avid reader of books and spends more time engaged in social activities than the non-user, it says. And, television viewing is down among some Internet users by as much as five hours per week compared with Net abstainers, the study added.

"Use of the Internet is reducing television viewing around the world while having little impact on positive aspects of social life," said Jeffrey Cole, director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, the California university that organized the project.

"Most Internet users generally trust the information they find online," he wrote via e-mail.

Big gender gap in Italy

The findings are derived from surveys of Internet and non-Internet users in 14 countries: the United States, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Japan, Macao, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, China and Chile.

The study does however support some long-established Internet usage trends including the fact that the wealthiest segments of the population are the most avid users and that more men than women surf the Web. But figures vary widely by country.

For example, the gender gap is most pronounced in Italy and smallest in Taiwan. According to the study, 41.7 percent of Italian men are online compared to 21.5 percent of Italian women. In Taiwan, the difference is 25.1 percent for men and 23.5 percent for women.

The digital divide, a phrase used to describe how poverty impacts Web usage, appears to be tightening around the world, Cole said.

In seven of the 12 countries for which the information was available, more than 20 percent of the poorest segment of the population uses the Internet. Sweden, Korea and the U.S. have the highest usage of Internet users among the poor.

Skeptical Swedes

The credibility of information published on the Internet also received a surprising boost.

Despite the existence of countless spoof Web sites and message boards that carry oddball political rants, more than half of Internet users surveyed said "most or all" of the information they find online is reliable and credible.

The most trusting users are in South Korea while Swedes are the biggest skeptics about the veracity of Web news.

The Chinese, meanwhile, are among the most active Net socializers. According to the study, Chinese Internet users say they rely on the medium to interact with others who share their political interests, hobbies and faith.

"It's more than in any other country and a significant figure for citizens of a nation in which religion is officially banned," the study said of Chinese users' willingness to discuss religion online with others.



Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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