By Heather Cabot, Yahoo! Web Life Editor
It's embarrassing to admit. But many late nights, you can find me curled up under the covers with my iPhone in hand, checking email, browsing the New York Times or filling in my Lose It food diary app. With my busy household fast asleep, I can unwind in the glow of my ever-present gadget. It's become a bad habit and yet, an easy way to deal with my insomnia. I'm not proud. I've become one of those folks who sleeps with my smart phone on my nightstand. The web is always at my beck and call, keeping me informed, in touch and organized even in the dead of night. And I've learned I am not alone. A new Yahoo! survey marking the company's 15th birthday shows that a majority of Americans are making similar choices - for better or for worse.
The poll conducted in late February by OTX and Decipher, Inc. reveals that only 19% of those surveyed ban the use of the Internet in bed. 41% check email as soon as they wake up. And a whopping 87% feel it's fine to go online before they've even had their first cup of coffee.
Why do people feel compelled to jump on the web whenever and wherever they are? Perhaps it's because we can. In the 15 years since Yahoo was founded, the Internet has become central to our personal lives. Today, 96% of those surveyed use the web at home compared to less than a third back in 1995. Here's a flashback: In 1995, President Clinton was in the midst of his first term, the nation grieved over the Oklahoma City bombing and watched the OJ Simpson murder trial unfold on TV. A gallon of gas cost just $1.09 and "Forrest Gump" won the Oscar for Best Picture. I was a cub reporter at WCAX-TV in Vermont whose only exposure to the web was a single terminal in the newsroom. We didn't even use email. And forget about cell phones. Reporters were given pagers and we used two-way radios to communicate with the assignment desk. I can't even remember using email for personal communication back then.
In our survey, Americans told us they had one personal email account and only 6 contacts in their address books in 1995. Only a quarter of folks used search engines and they used them primarily for work. Today, Internet users have an average of 3 or more personal email accounts and more than 50 contacts. 86% use search engines to find out information that touches every aspect of their lives. Fifteen years ago, people still used slower, dial up connections. Thanks to the explosive growth of broadband and mobile web, the Internet has never been more accessible.
According to the survey of 1,687 Americans ages 25-64, the web has replaced everything from handwriting letters to cookbooks to newspapers to watching television. 67% of those interviewed said they "couldn't live without email" and half said the same goes for instant messaging and social networking. 46% said the web is extremely important for online banking and investing.
And the poll also found out that people would be willing to make some pretty big sacrifices if they had to choose between going online and other parts of their lives. More than a third told pollsters they would even give up sex! They were also willing to forgo their MP3 players (81%), video games (78%), alcohol (75%) and chocolate (70%).
I can't imagine ever giving up sex or time with my family and friends for the web. Most people agree that while the Internet has made a lot of daily tasks more convenient, nothing beats a handwritten thank your or a telephone call to share big news. We yearn for the days when we weren't so plugged in and yet, as this survey shows, we have become more and more reliant on technology to manage our day to day routines. For better or for worse, it's the new reality. Now that we have all of these tools at our fingertips, we have a responsibility to shape how it will enhance or infringe on our lives and relationships. I'm not giving up my iPhone at my bedside any time soon. But you can bet my young kids won't be allowed to follow my bad habits.
I'll have to break my addiction before they can read!
Could you live without the web? When and where do you use it?