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Digital Nation: We're All Gadget Geeks Now

For decades, the adoption and use of the latest technologies was limited to a subculture: Whether called “tech enthusiasts” or “gadget geeks,” the implication was that most of the world got along fine with older, established products and services, while a smaller group pursued the most leading-edge technology.

But according to a study released Wednesday by Forrester Research, a marketing firm based in Cambridge, Mass., a shift has taken place. What used to be the pursuit of a few has become decidedly mainstream. We’re all gadget geeks now.

According to the study, which surveyed 53,668 households in the United States and Canada by mail, half of all American adults are gamers. Sixty-three percent of American households have a broadband Internet connection. Three-quarters of American households have cellphones and PCs. And nearly 10 million American households, out of nearly 118 million, added an HDTV in the last year, a jump of 27 percent over 2007. “There’s really no group out of the tech loop,” said Jacqueline Anderson, an analyst with Forrester who was one of the study’s authors. “America is becoming a digital nation. Technology adoption continues to roll along, picking up more and more mainstream consumers every year.”

High-definition television sets were one of the fastest-growing consumer technologies in 2008. Over the next five years, the company forecasts, nearly 39 million households in the United States will get their first high-definition set, bringing total market penetration for HDTV to nearly 70 percent.

The study also found that despite the recession, online spending remained strong, with older consumers leading the charge. On average, those consumers spent $560 in the last three months, although “20 percent of that group spent more than $1,000 online in the last three months,” Ms. Anderson said. Given the tumultuous economic climate, “that’s a lot of money,” she said.

Ms. Anderson also pointed out that families were a big driver behind the widespread adoption of technologies. The popularity of video game consoles like the Nintendo Wii, which took a decidedly different approach from other game-console makers by appealing to nongamers and families, created an opening for more digital entertainment to enter the home.

Families are also more likely to have gadgetry like MP3 players, digital cameras and digital camcorders. “They have little kids so they want to catalog those memories,” Ms. Anderson said. In addition, 86 percent of families with children had mobile phones but were also more likely to use mobile phones with more features like music and video playback.

The study also suggests a growing reliance on the Internet for commerce, communication, entertainment and social lives, said Charles S. Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research, and a co-author on the study. “The digitization of our daily lives has been steadily ramping up over the past decade,” Mr. Golvin said.

One area that appears to be slower to catch on is home networks. The survey found that 33 percent of households in the United States with an Internet connection reported having a home network, up from 28 percent a year ago. Although Ms. Anderson says that figure is relatively high, the adoption is still lower compared with the adoption of other home technologies. “The barrier to entry for a home network is a lot higher than for an HDTV, where all you have to do is buy one,” she said. “There are more components and you have to understand how to connect them. Many people had the components for a home network before but didn’t necessarily understand what it meant to put them together or why they’d want to,” she said. In the next five years, the company forecasts, more than 30 million households will install a home network, bringing market penetration to just over 50 percent.

Already, Mr. Golvin says, more people are migrating away from the home and office to use the Web and turning toward their smartphones. About 15 percent of cellphone owners were using the Internet on their phones in 2008, the study found, showing that, for a growing number of Americans, there is an increasing “expectation that all the same services and resources are available to us no matter where we are,” he said.

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