Feb 7, 2006

From the Archives

Americans’ On-the-Go Lifestyles and Entertainment Appetites Fuel Increasing Reliance Upon Technology

A decade ago, most Americans were oblivious to the role that digital technology would soon play in their lives. Now, consumer technologies – such as cell phones, DVD players, and mobile computers – have generated mainstream adoption and have significantly shaped the lifestyles and expectations of the nation’s population.

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A new study released by The Barna Group shows that Americans continue to scoop up devices and technologies that help them remain connected, work from wherever, entertain themselves, and gain a greater sense of control over their hectic lives. In the last three years, the biggest gains in technology owned by adults has included DVD players, portable music players (such as iPods), laptop computers, digital cameras and video recorders, and increasing access to high-speed Internet in the home – technologies that were virtually unknown to consumers just 10 years ago.

The research also points out that born again Christians account for a significant slice – 40%, to be exact – of the consumer technology market. In fact, evangelical Christians – who are a subset of the born again segment – are more likely than the norm to have cell phones, desktop computers, and Internet access.


Americans love to be entertained. Perhaps no aspect of consumer technology has changed as much as the services and devices that cater to Americans’ prodigious appetites for entertainment on their terms. One of the fastest-selling such devices is the mobile music player or MP3 player, with Apple’s iPod reignling as the best known of the bunch. Today, one out of five adults owns an iPod or MP3 player, allowing them to enjoy music (and sometimes video) whenever and wherever they choose.

These new mobile devices have even created a new entertainment medium, often called “podcasts.” These are audio (and sometimes video) “programs” downloaded from the Internet that can be listened to or watched on a mobile music player or on a computer. To date, just 5% of adults have listened to a podcast, although this number is expected to grow significantly as more Americans obtain the requisite equipment and as they discover that podcasts provide highly customized experiences (e.g., unique content and flexible usage options).

While some iPods play video, DVD players have become the default video technology for Americans: 84% of American households have a DVD player, which represents an increase of more than 400% since 2000. The brisk growth of DVD machines is usually attributed to their use with televisions, but DVD players have also become standard components of most new computers, helping to drive adoption of the technology and creating another way in which consumers can view movies.

Americans get good use out of their DVD players: they watch an average of 45 movies every year! Most of those films are viewed in their home, but movies are increasingly being watched “on the go,” using portable DVD players and laptop computers. With one-third of Americans owning a home theater system – along with the increasing use of portable computers and high-definition, large-screen televisions and projection systems – it is little wonder that Americans bought fewer theater tickets last year than in previous years.

Also in the realm of home entertainment, more than three-quarters of adults subscribe to either cable or satellite, with satellite continuing to grow. Today one-third of Americans get their television programming via satellite signal (33%), nearly double the rate of 2000.


Another critical driver of Americans’ use of technology is their mobile lifestyles. Overall, more than nine out of 10 adults have at least one portable digital device. Cell telephones are the most widely used mobile technology: 72% of adults use a cellphone, up by 24% since 2000.

An even faster growth rate has occurred for mobile computers, such as laptops, notebooks, palmtops, pocket computers, and PDAs (personal digital assistants). Currently, 40% of adults have at least one such device, more than double the penetration of five years ago. Laptop and notebook computers are owned by twice as many adults (30%) as are palmtop computers and PDAs (15%). Laptop, notebook and palmtop computers allow people to have all the benefits of a desktop – such as powerful computing programs, scheduling and contact lists, a diverse menu of entertainment options, vast catalogs of music and personal pictures, and access to email and Internet – all built into a portable package.

One mobile technology that has yet to gain much traction is satellite guidance systems for automobiles, known as GPS. Currently, less than one out of 10 consumers owns a vehicle that contains a GPS unit (9%). However, recent growth has shifted the market for this tool, with young adults now more likely than older adults to own a unit. The implication of this demographic shift is that the technology will probably expand its market share more quickly than in recent years since it is no longer relegated only to the high-end autos preferred by mature drivers.

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Although personal computing has seen its sharpest growth in the arena of mobile devices, desktop computers have also increased by 22% since 2000. Currently, two-thirds of Americans own a desktop PC (67%). There is little doubt that computers have become part of the mainstream experience: 85% of Americans have at least one type of personal computer (desktop or laptop). Just six years ago, only about half of adults had access to a computer at home.

The lure of the Internet is one major reason why Americans have integrated computers into their lives. Currently, two-thirds of adults have Internet access from home (67%), up 34% since 2000. In fact, among the fastest-growing technologies in America is high-speed Internet access, which has nearly doubled since 2003. Overall, 41% of Americans have such robust Internet hookups, split virtually down the middle between those using DSL and those relying upon cable for their high-speed connection.

Computers and digital technology have also ushered in a new era of photography and home movies. Accordingly, Americans have gobbled up digital cameras (currently owned by 52% of adults) and digital video cameras (36%), providing a remarkable range of options in handling their digitized memories and experiences: photo and movie editing; extensive cataloguing; easy-print services via the Internet; posting pictures and videos on the Internet; emailing snapshots to others around the globe; and so on.

Christians and Technology

The research also examined the penetration of technology among the nation’s nearly 90 million born again adults. Of the 14 technological services and products studied, born again Christians represent, on average, two out of every five users (40%). The penetration of most technologies reached identical levels for both born again and non-born again Americans. Both audiences own an average of five digital technologies that were assessed in the research.

However, non-born again consumers were more likely than were Christians to possess mobile devices such as GPS, mobile music players, and portable computers. They were also more likely to have high-speed Internet access. However, even in these areas, the born again segment represents one-quarter of the GPS market and more than one-third of the market for iPods, MP3 players, and mobile computers.

In other areas, born again Christians did not lag at all: they account for nearly half (45%) of the consumer audience when it came to desktop computers, satellite television, and cellular telephones. Evangelicals – who are a subset of the born again audience – were actually more likely than average to have cell phones (83%), desktop computers (78%), and home Internet access (77%).

The Generation Gap

Not surprisingly, the tech boom continues to be powered by the youngest Americans. Every type of technological device or service that was assessed in the research was more common among adults age 40 and under than among those over 40. In most cases, the technologies were used most widely by Mosaics (ages 18-21) and Busters (ages 22-40), followed by Boomers (ages 41 to 59), and least of all by Elders (60 or older). This was true of digital cameras and video cameras, DVD players, satellite television, computers (including desktop and mobile), and Internet access. On average, Mosaics own six digital technologies, compared with five for Busters, four among Boomers, and just three among Elders.

Currently, Busters are more likely than Mosaics to own a computer and to have Internet access. This is partly attributable to stage-of-life issues, with Mosaics just entering their adult years and having less discretionary income to spend on computer systems. Still, several technologies have caught on in such a way that each successive generation is significantly more likely than its predecessors to own or use the technology. The best example of this is the mobile music player (such as iPods): 40% of Mosaics own such a device, followed by 25% of Busters, 17% of Boomers, and just 3% of Elders. Similarly, podcasts, cell phones, GPS, and home theater systems followed the same pattern – Mosaics’ use of these technologies outpaces Busters, who in turn outdo Boomers, who leave Elders in their technological dust.

Insights on the Technology World

David Kinnaman, Vice President of The Barna Group and the director of the research, explained that generational differences in terms of technology go beyond mere gaps in ownership. “It’s not just that younger adults own more digital devices – they use and experience technology in a way that is very different from their parents. This is important because it means that each generation actually lives in a different ‘bubble’ when it comes to the rapid advancements of the digital age.

“Elders only embrace services and products if their life would be worse off without them, so the only devices that are owned by more than half of Elders are cell phones and DVD players. Most Boomers have a love-hate relationship with technology; they realize it is important to facilitate today’s lifestyles, but they find their comfort zones violated by new devices and processes. Busters are much more comfortable with technology and are able to use it effectively as a tool for work and leisure. For Mosaics, the tech world represents an indispensable means of identity, relationships, and self-expression. In short, technology is widening the generational gap – and that digital divide is expected to grow even deeper as the consumer audience splinters into hundreds of micro-audiences and technology tribes. Understanding these generational differences and micro-audiences and responding appropriately is important for facilitating relevant ministry to each group.”

Kinnaman also commented on the role of technology in shaping the faith of Americans. “Families should pay particular attention to how they use technology and how it shapes their children’s lifestyles and attitudes. Congregational leaders should strive to integrate media and technology into the efforts of the church – but within the boundaries of their ministry vision and values. Because technology is so diverse and is changing so quickly, no church can be all things technological to all people. America is now a nation of many mission fields – that is, a country filled with divergent micro-audiences, each using different media and technologies to make their lives work. Church leaders would benefit from having a clear sense about what audiences they reach, how they can use technology to deepen ministry relevance, and how they can help congregants develop biblical perspectives about the ever-changing world of technology.”

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Additional Reading and Resources

  • For information on how technology use is growing rapidly in churches, click here

Research Background

The data in this report are based on a nationwide telephone survey conducted by the Barna Research Group. The OmniPollSM survey involved interviews among 1010 adults during the end of October 2005. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of adults is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. People in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution of those individuals coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of qualified individuals.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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