Digital Future Project

The Center for the Digital Future was one of the earliest research organizations to explore the views and behavior of Internet users and non-users in the United States, and was the first to develop a longitudinal panel study of these issues.  The annual findings we produce – the Digital Future Project Report – represent the longest continuing study of its kind.

The Center initiated its work in 1999, and we published our first study in 2000 — a project that has become the comprehensive, year-to-year examination of the impact of online technology in the United States.

Download the Digital Future Project Reports here

Digital Future Project: Background

Our objective for these reports is the same today as when it was created: to study actions and opinions related to the use — or non-use — of online technology, as well as to monitor the emergence of changes yet to come.

In particular, the continual evolution of the Internet and how Americans embrace these developments are fertile fields for our work.  Through our 11 annual studies, we have observed one particularly fascinating constant: that online behavior changes relentlessly, and users and non-users develop attitudes and actions that are always in flux as technology emerges, and then thrives or withers.  Our work is a continuing effort to chronicle this extraordinary interplay between technology and behavior.

The Internet: Still in the Early Evolutionary Stages

Even after more than 20 years of online access, the world is still at the beginning of the Internet revolution.  We believe that the importance and influence of digital technology and media has already dwarfed that of television. The pace of digital change and its impact will continue to accelerate over the next ten years, which is why we have tracked a sample of the American population as they have moved online and progressed from modems to broadband to mobile and beyond.

The USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future:
Exploring the Impact of the Internet

The Digital Future Project surveys individuals in more than 1,500 households across the United States, compiling the responses of Internet users and non-users. Each year we contact the same households to learn how online technology affects the lives of those who continue to use the Internet, those who remain non-users, and those who move from being non-users to users, and vice versa. (Those households that drop out are replaced with new ones.) We are also noting changes as users shift from Internet access by modem to broadband.

As new types of access and use — such as wireless, handheld devices, or other methods now unknown — become available, the project will track them.  The project is open to researching all aspects of change on the Internet and its applications; for example, in the past five years we have expanded our findings about online communities and social networking.  We will continue to monitor online technology as it transforms in yet-unexpected ways.

Why an Ongoing Study of the Internet?

The Digital Future Project differs from most other studies of the Internet in five principal areas:

  • The Digital Future Project looks at the social impact of the Internet — Most Internet studies gather data about who is online, how long they are online, and what they do online. The Digital Future Project also compiles this information, but then examines the implications of the use of online technology, and links this use to a broad range of values, behavior, attitudes, and perceptions.
  • The project focuses on Internet non-users as well as users — The Digital Future Project follows how the behavior and views of Internet users differ from those of non-users.  Especially important is noting changes in the behavior and views of individuals who are initially non-users and later become users.
  • The project looks at the same group of people year after year — The Digital Future Project comprehensively examines the effects of the Internet over the course of years on the same group of people.  The research team maintains a core sample of respondents, and tracks short-term and long-term changes in their behavior, lifestyle, attitudes, and Internet use.
  • A worldwide effort — The USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future created and organizes the World Internet Project, which includes the Digital Future Project and similar studies in countries worldwide (go here for contacts of the worldwide partners).  Through this team of international partners, the World Internet Project studies and compares changes associated with the Internet in different countries and regions, creating an international picture of change in online technology, use, and impact.
  • A primary goal of the Digital Future Project is to engage government and private industry decision-makers who can create policy based on our findings.  We are involved with public and private organizations that are committed to using our results.  We have been allied with an unprecedented array of corporations – several of which are direct competitors – and foundations, all of whom are engaged with us in an dialogue about the issues in our studies.

The Digital Future Project: Key Areas

The 2018 Digital Future Report includes findings that explore the views and behavior of users, as well as compare Internet users to non-users, and users within different demographic groups.

The survey is organized into five general subject areas that examine more than 100 major issues:

  • Internet Users And Non-Users: Who Is Online?  Who Is Not? What Are Users Doing Online?
  • Media Use And Trust
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Communication Patterns
  • Social Effects

We hope you will be enlightened by our studies of the views and behavior of Americans, as we continue to develop our understanding of how the Internet is transforming our world.