Your stakeholders are more likely than you might have realized to be highly tech-savvy. A study released Nov. 23 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 31 percent of Americans value the internet, cell phones, and handheld organizers more than TV and traditional wired telephones. Schools and colleges increasingly will be working with this so-called “tech elite.”

Although the American family has been growing smaller, the researchers said, Americans are more often using technology to communicate with one another, establish relationships, and gather information. One manifestation is that these people are able to interact more effectively.

Consider the “smart mob,” a phenomenon in which people use text-messaging devices to assemble previously unconnected people for some common purpose. Quickly assembled crowds have become a celebrated feature of the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. Such rapid deployment fostered by information technology also could have implications for a variety of activities related to schools and colleges–from school board attendance and bond-issue turnout to impromptu alumni gatherings.

Researchers who conducted the study said they were somewhat surprised by the size of this new tech elite. Furthermore, they found, these tech-savvy stakeholders are not just twenty-somethings, although the young do compose the plurality of the tech elite. Researchers also found a substantial number of baby boomers and seniors who are equally ardent about using technology.

According to the study, a “young elite” makes up 20 percent of this group. Their average age is 22. Older “baby boomers” make up another 20 percent. Their average age is 52. And wired “genXers” make up 60 percent of the group. Their average age is 36.

Each age group has its own characteristics when it comes to technology, the researchers said. Techies in their late teens and 20s are more likely to create online content, such as Web logs, or “blogs.” Generation Xers are more likely to pay for content on the web, while wired boomers and seniors generally plumb the internet for news or to do work-related research.

Sound like anybody you know? To determine if you or your colleagues might be swelling the ranks of the tech elite, consider these other Pew findings about this group:

  • They spend, on average, a total of $169 a month on broadband internet service, satellite, or cable TV, cell phones, and web content. That’s 39 percent higher than the national average, $122.

  • Some 29 percent of them have broadband connections, compared with 17 percent of everyone else.

  • About 7 percent of technology aficionados have canceled their landline phone and gone all-wireless. Only 2 percent of nontechies have done that.

  • Despite being plugged in to the internet and other sources of data more often, only 13 percent of the tech-savvy crowd feels overwhelmed by information. By contrast, a sense of information overload plagues 25 percent of the rest of the population.

    So why do the people who immerse themselves in information feel less besieged by it?

    It could be that technology helps some people organize or take control of their lives, said John Horrigan, author of the PEW report. Or others are simply better at knowing “what to do and how to cope with the information that is flooding at them,” he said.

    Pew produced the report after surveying 1,677 American adults in October. The study has a margin of error of two percentage points.

    Links:

    Pew Internet & American Life Project
    http://www.pewinternet.org

    Full Report in PDF
    http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/pdfs/PIP_Info_Consumption.pdf