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E-Political Socialization, the Press and Politics

The Media and Government in the USA, Europe and China


Edited By Christ´l De Landtsheer, Russell Farnen and Daniel B. German

This book examines the state of print and electronic media in the United States of America, Europe, and China. The latest mass communication advances demonstrate that we live in an increasingly media-centric world. The chapters include theoretical and empirical studies that shed light on the meaning of this development. The trajectory of people’s move to electronic communication is a global phenomenon affecting their daily life. Does this trend aid or impede democracy? Is there an emerging digital divide contributing to an increasing gap between the rich and poor people and nations? The four parts of this book explore various aspects of political socialization and its relationship with different media, including print, broadcasting, and the Internet.
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5 Media Use in the United States

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Chapter 5

Media Use in the United States: Electronic Media Dramatically Up and Print Media Down

Daniel B. German

Professor (Emeritus) of Political Science, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, USA

Caitlin Lally

Communications Assistant for the National Governors Association, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA


This research project traces the media use habits of children and adults. Over time, television consumption is increasing even though computer and Internet activities are also rapidly increasing. The American people are consuming greater amounts of electronic media while traditional newspaper use is declining. It appears that people are not connecting face to face as much as in the past and live more and more in the individualized world of media. Furthermore, a digital divide based on socio-economic status and race is evident. Blacks use television more than Whites and Hispanics and African Americans and Hispanics use the computer less than Whites. Both of the developments of increased media use and the digital divide do not bode well for 1) building the social capital of connectedness, and 2) widening access to political information which fuels democracy. The political socialization process and hence American political culture are developing new patterns which should be carefully monitored in the future.


The most comprehensive media study in existence for children is administered and distributed by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The first comprehensive report released was in 1999, called Kids and Media at the New Millennium, which was the primary data source used for our previous research project, “Television and the Internet’s Effects on the Socialization of American Children” (German and Lally, 2005). As the Kaiser Family Foundation found it necessary to update their report in 2004 due to significant changes in media technology, it is important to continue to write about what types of implications these significant changes have for the future of American society. Furthermore, it is necessary to examine the patterns of media use by all Americans – not just children – as the current trend in the US has become particularly focused on a consumer society in which the individual reigns supreme and participation in community activities is increasingly absent. To supplement what the Kaiser Family Foundation has done for children, the US Department of Commerce has put together “A Nation Online,” a two-part publication exploring ← 77 | 78 → how Americans use the Internet and the effects of the rapidly growing broadband technologies on media consumption, and a study released by the Pew Research Center entitled “Internet News Takes Off” (Pew Research Center, 2005). Although these studies are not as comprehensive as the Kaiser project, they serve as a good indication about who is accessing what types of media and what they are concerned about while searching information. The issues most prevalent in American society related to media use tend to be 1) access, 2) amount of daily media use, and 3) content of media. These three factors are extremely important because not only do they result in a lack of participation in community activities (social capital), but also access and information quality may be a major contributing factor in what is known as the “digital divide” between socio-economic classes. This chapter begins with a discussion of the previous research and conclusions of several scholars, followed by a profile of American children’s and adults’ media consumption habits and access, and ends with a brief discussion of the implications these trends have for American society and politics.

Past and Present: Where Does American Society Stand Today When Compared to the Past?

In 2000, Robert Putnam released his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Since then, he has been considered one of the premier scholars on the issue of the waning fund of social capital in the US: “Civic engagement and social capital entail mutual obligation and responsibility for action” (Putnam, 2000, p. 21). He and many other scholars believe that the only way to repair social connections in the US is “to ask how the positive consequences of social capital – mutual support, cooperation, trust, institutional effectiveness – can be maximized and the negative manifestations – sectarianism, ethnocentrism, corruption – minimized” (Putnam, 2000, p. 22). According to Putnam, one form of social capital that is important to look at is participation in politics. While Americans participate at roughly the same levels as other democracies worldwide, albeit a bit lower in voter turnout, the important differences appear when examining what Putnam calls “inter and intra generational cohorts” (Putnam, 2000, pp. 32-27). Putnam says that while it is true that there are wide gaps in voter participation and general interest in politics both between generations and when comparing people of similar ages in differing decades, he believes that these are just the most visible symptoms of a larger problem that faces the American nation. While voting and information gathering can be done relatively alone, things like party identification and volunteering in political campaigns are more community-based activities that add to social networks. Party identification has dropped from around 75% in the 1960s to lower than 65% in the 1990s (Putnam, 2000, p. 38). The levels at which people worked for a party in the 1980s and 1990s have dropped by nearly 50% from the 1950s and 1960s; however, the number of people contacted by the parties ← 78 | 79 → was nearly 2.5 times greater in 1996 than in 1968 (Putnam, 2000, p. 39). Putnam notes that it is very hard to reconcile this fact and the growing intake of capital by the political parties, but he concludes that this is an indication of the “professionalization and commercialization of politics in America” and that this growth of money in politics simply has created professional politics aimed at mass marketing strategies (Putnam, 2000, pp. 39-49). Another important aspect of social capital is civic participation – in what numbers and how often are Americans participating in groups? Alexis de Tocqueville famously wrote:

Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations. There are not only commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but others of a thousand different types – religious, moral, serious, futile, very general and very limited, immensely large and very minute ... Nothing, in my view, deserves more attention than the intellectual and moral associations in America (cited in Putnam, 2000, p. 48).

However, the associations of today are truly a different beast from what de Tocqueville observed over 170 years ago. Increasingly, groups that have been founded after 1965 have mass membership and are what Putnam calls “mailing list organizations” (Putnam, 2000, p. 51). His example is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in which fewer than 10% of its 33 million members actually attend any type of meeting. For many associations in the US today, there is little to no interaction; the only type of involvement necessary is writing and mailing a check (Putnam, 2000, p. 51). Putnam believes that it is important that we differentiate between these new types of organizations, which he refers to as “tertiary associations” where there is no social contact, and organizations like prayer groups or gardening clubs, which are called secondary associations. In tertiary associations, members’ ties are to common beliefs and leaders but not to each other (Putnam, 2000, p. 52). As an example of the decline in participation of Americans in chapter-based organizations, Putnam cites the case of Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs). During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Parent Teacher Associations were at the height of their membership, with nearly 50% of parents with children under the age of 18 in school attending PTA meetings. Today, that membership level has decreased to less than 20% of parents with school-aged children participating in PTA meetings (Putnam, 2000, p. 57). So, Putnam points out that while many people look at growing membership trends in organizations, this may not be an accurate predictor of Americans’ levels of civic engagement (Putnam, 2000, p. 58). We must look at active and involved membership encompassing face-to-face contact with members of a community.

A third type of social capital that Putnam discusses is religious participation. Members of religious groups are more likely to participate in other civic and political organizations. About 50% to 60% of churchgoing members volunteer at some organization as opposed to 30% to 35% of non-members (Putnam, 2000, ← 79 | 80 → p. 67). Religious organizations have been at the cornerstone of many historic American movements – in particular the civil rights movement:

The Black church functioned as the institutional center of the modern civil rights movement ... Churches provided the movement with an organized mass base; a leadership of clergymen largely economically independent of the larger white society and skilled in the art of managing people and resources; an institutionalized financial base through which the protest was financed; and meeting places where the masses planned tactics and strategies and collectively committed themselves to the struggle (Putnam, 2000, p. 68).

While there is much debate about what should be classified as church membership and which records are right – Gallup polls or church records – Putnam (2000, p. 72) concludes that claiming church membership and actual attendance have two different measures. While Americans are 10% less likely to claim church membership now than in the 1950s and 1960s, they are anywhere from 25% to 50% less likely to actually attend any church services. Some of the gaps in this data come particularly from people who claim a religion, but do not attend church (Putnam, 2000, p. 72). Again, as discussed in relation to political and civic engagement, significant religious participation can be seen between generational cohorts. People today are attending church in fewer numbers than people in similar age categories in the 1950s and 1960s and American churches today are far less engaged in the community, which only contributes to the declining social connectedness within communities (Putnam, 2000, p. 79). Specifically, “the boomers” born in the years immediately after World War II where an estimated two-thirds who were raised religious, “dropped out” of their religious tradition, as described by Wade Clark Roof and William McKinney:

Large numbers of young, well-educated, middle class youth ... defected from the churches in the late sixties and the seventies ... Some joined new religious movements, others sought personal enlightenment through various spiritual therapies and disciplines, but most simply ‘dropped out’ of organized religion altogether ... [The consequence was a] tendency toward highly individualized religious psychology without the benefits of strong supportive attachments to believing communities. A major impetus in this direction in the post-1960s was the thrust toward greater personal fulfilment and quest for the ideal self ... In this climate of expressive individualism, religion tends to become ‘privatized,’ or more anchored in the personal realms (cited in Putnam, 2000, p. 74).

Why is American Society Losing Social Capital?

Most of the time when pollsters ask Americans why they tend not to participate in civic activities, the answer is “I don’t have time.” The number of Americans who “always feel rushed” has more than doubled since the 1960s (Putnam, 2000, p. 89). While there is still much debate, most economists fall into one of two categories when discussing whether or not Americans work more today than they did in the 1950s and 1960s. Some economists, such as Ellen McGrattan and Richard ← 80 | 81 → Rogerson, say that Americans are working about the same number of hours per week as they have been since World War II (Putnam, 2000, p. 190). However, there are some economists, such as John Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey, who say that Americans actually have about 6.2 more hours of free time on average than they did in the 1950s. These economists attribute this figure to improved technology for housework, fewer children, and early retirement (Putnam, 2000, p. 190). While it may seem that some free time has been gained, scholars believe that this gain in leisure time seems only to affect less educated classes of people. In 1969, highly educated people worked an average of six hours more per week than high school educated people and in 1998, they worked 13 hours more per week. However, even if certain segments of the population seem to be busier than others, there is actually a positive correlation between number of hours worked and civic engagement (Putnam, 2000, p. 191).

As society progresses, technology, specifically the technology of communication, has become more and more present in our daily lives. Since 1948, television has increasingly become an important aspect of Americans’ lives. Putnam (2000, p. 217) quotes T.S. Elliot as having observed television as “a medium of entertainment, which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain alone.” However, the first forms of mass communication were not visual or audio mediums like television and radio, but newspapers. Alexis de Tocqueville described the importance of the newspaper in civic engagement:

When no firm and lasting ties any longer unite men, it is impossible to obtain the cooperation of any great number of them unless you can persuade every man whose help is required that he serves his private interests by voluntarily uniting his efforts to those of all the others. That cannot be done habitually and conveniently without the help of a newspaper. Only a newspaper can put the same thought at the same times before a thousand readers. So hardly any democratic association can carry on without a newspaper (cited in Putnam, 2000, p. 218).

Still today, newspaper readers continue to be the most well-educated and the citizens most likely to participate in civic life. However, the number of people who read newspapers has declined rapidly in the past couple of decades as people turn more and more to electronic media (Putnam, 2000, pp. 218-219). Further, while Americans spend a great deal of time watching the television, like people who read the news, the number of people who watch the news is also on the decline.

Putnam says it is important to consider the fact that nothing has had a more profound effect on leisure time in the US than television, and the longitudinal effects the Internet will have on our society have only just begun to appear (2000, p. 221). The proliferation of mass communication technology such as television and the Internet has dramatically changed the way Americans live their lives. Statistics compiled by analysts tell us that annually, Americans watch 250 billion hours of television each year and the average number of hours a day per household ← 81 | 82 → that the television is switched on is 6 hours and 47 minutes. We also know that each year, the average American child will spend about 900 hours in school and about 1,500 hours watching television. This intrusion of television into our lives is creating a consumerist culture in which by age 65, an American will have seen over 2 million commercials. The top 100 television advertisers spent over $15 billion selling products to the American people (Herr, 2001). Research on how television is affecting the American public has been going on for some time and leaders of the medical community have long voiced their opinions on the negative consequences television may have. Critics blame television for the nation’s violence epidemic, poor self-image, and the sedentary nature of American society. A child will see nearly 8,000 murders on television before they leave elementary school and that number reaches 40,000 by the age of 18 (Herr, 2001). Experts say that television has become an addiction among the American public, with many “high television” watchers expressing five symptoms of dependency upon television, which is two more than needed to classify something as clinical substance abuse (Herr, 2001). A survey in 1995 also blames television for the 4.7 million children found to be “severely overweight” in the US. This same group watches an average of 22 hours of television per week and consumes a high-calorie diet – experts found 200 junk food commercials within a four-hour period of Saturday morning cartoons (Herr, 2001). Children are not the only ones to suffer from the obesity epidemic in the US; adults who watch three hours or more of television a day are much more likely to be severely overweight than those who watch less than half an hour a day (Herr, 2001). According to Nielsen Media Research (2005), Americans are watching television today in record levels.

While television viewing rates have increased across the US, the number of households with Internet access has also risen dramatically, from 54.6% in 2001 to 61.5% in 2003, and continues to grow (US Department of Commerce, 2004, p. 5). Americans use their Internet connections to communicate via e-mail, play games, listen to music, watch television or movies, purchase goods, bank, and get information. The Internet has allowed Americans to continue their consumerist ways without every having to leave their home. This is a trend that seems to be affecting young people the most; A Nation Online: How Americans are Expanding Their Use of the Internet (US Department of Commerce, 2002, p. 42), says that “by the age of 10 young people are more likely to use the Internet than adults at any age beyond 25.” The Internet is increasingly being used in the classroom. Some 84% of children aged 5 to 9 use the Internet at home, school, or both (US Department of Commerce, 2002, p. 44). However, in spite of pervasive Internet use in the classroom, major usage gaps exist between different age, racial, and socio-economic status groups. The Internet is a wonderful tool for education due to the wealth of information it provides, but as with television, it is not without concerns among parents. Parents continue to be worried about the types of inappropriate or dangerous material their children may be exposed to through Internet use. Of ← 82 | 83 → parents surveyed in A Nation Online (US Department of Commerce, 2002, p. 54), 46.9% indicated a concern about materials their children were being exposed to from the television and the Internet equally.

Doris A. Graber (2002) has found that African American households as well as Hispanic households are more reliant on television than are White families. However, she finds the greatest differences in how Americans use media between income levels: “High-income families, who usually are better educated than poor families, use print media more and television less than the rest of the population” (Graber, 2002, p. 202). However, Chadwick (2006, pp. 73-77) says that when explaining the digital divide in particular Internet usage, it is important to look at the variables of income, race, and education level as they are all strong indicators of the types of media consumed and the quality of the information being obtained. Chadwick (2006, p. 73) points out that it is important to note that demographic variables can be very closely related and these three in particular are strongly intercorrelated. Through an analysis of these variables from each study, income followed by education and then closely followed by race seems to be the most statistically significant variable when determining who has access to quality information and the Internet. However, Chadwick points out that these broad demographic variables do not necessarily explain why certain Americans are accessing the Internet and others are not. A study done by the University of Southern California indicates that those who access the Internet more often (typically younger, White, highly educated and upper income) use the Internet for a broad range of activities that shape their social, personal, and professional networks while expanding their knowledge, as opposed to those who access the Internet less often (who typically are in lower socio-economic groups), who do so mostly for entertainment (Chadwick, 2006, p. 75).

Television and the Internet: Important Sources of Political Socialization?

What role do the media play in shaping the identity of individuals? According to Huntemann and Morgan, media, particularly television, influence children’s “values, beliefs, dreams, and expectations” (2001, p. 311). Huntemann and Morgan (2001, p. 312) say that adolescence is the time the media play the largest role in helping to shape individuals’ identity. Studies show that media play a large role in shaping the identity of adolescents, who are searching for independence from family and society. A great deal of content analysis of television programs and commercials has been done and common findings report that media provide a quick way for children to learn what it means to be a boy or a girl (German and Lally, 2005). Despite progress in television in providing women with non-traditional roles, gender stereotypes still exist which are picked up in television use beginning in early childhood years. Huntemann and Morgan give as an example the use of ← 83 | 84 → teen magazines to define young girls’ femininity (2001, p. 314). It is alarming to think that there is a lack of studies of media effects on the sexual behaviors of adolescents, but there is a large pool of analysis of television programming with sexual content. Further, Huntemann and Morgan (2001, p. 315) perceive that sexual attractiveness is critical and for the majority of people, the comparisons that this invites are not healthy. In the development of an identity within society, this can lead to isolation, self-rejection, and an obsession with body image among adolescents. Content analysis of television programming also reveals that “sex” in the media refers to an unmarried, heterosexual couple. Gay and lesbian teens are excluded completely from the perceived television audience (Huntemann and Morgan, 2001, pp. 315-316).

Media portrayals also affect the socialization of minority children. Walter Gerson (1966) explores this in his article “Mass Media Socialization: Negro-White Differences.” Gerson suggests that African American children are in fact more socialized by mass media than are White children. They may even be using media, in particular the television, to learn how to behave more like White people. Gerson believes that this behavior is only perpetuating social segregation, a poor self-image among African American children, and highlighting the differences between communities (Gerson, 1966, pp. 40-50). The portrayal of minorities has deep historical roots, but negative images of minorities are repeated and normalized by keeping certain groups invisible (Huntemann and Morgan, 2001, p. 316). Statistics published by the Common Sense Media Poll report that, of the characters shown on prime time television, 3% are Asian, 4% are Latino, and 16% are African American; the remaining 74% are White. Also, 19% of prime time television characters are non-human, while only 17% are women (Key Findings, 2003). Content analyses have shown that, typically, minorities are associated with crime, violence, and substance abuse and are rarely seen in interracial interactions, unless it is with an authority figure. Researchers have found that because of the negative portrayal of minorities, minority children who watch a lot of television have a poor self-concept and do not want to participate in society outside of their community. As a result of the distorted view of African Americans in the media, African American children often reject their non-White, non-European heritage (Huntemann and Morgan, 2001, p. 316). The negative portrayal of minorities has come under much criticism by minority group leaders, yet minorities still remain some of the most active consumers of media. One theory as to why this occurs is what Oscar Gandy calls the “social construction of risk” (Gandy, 2001, pp. 600-618). Using content analysis and surveys, Gandy concludes that the depiction of both minorities and women in the media leads them to believe that the world is a dangerous place. Both women and African Americans feel they are more at risk in society for some type of crime or prejudiced treatment than White males (Gandy, 2001, pp. 600-618). ← 84 | 85 →

Many African Americans see racial biases in American media as a long-term trend. Michael Ryan (1982, pp. 276-289) tries to determine how minorities choose their media in order to avoid what they see as an emphasis on bad news and a suppression of good news in urban, minority, and low-income neighborhoods. This unfair depiction of minorities causes a negative self-image and may lead to a rejection of American culture as a whole and, therefore, poor socialization of minority citizens. It is plausible that the way the television media depict gender roles, sexuality, violence, and minorities could be contributing to the loss of social capital in the US as television increasingly grows to be a major aspect of socialization in the lives of Americans (German and Lally, 2005). Many experts believe that media portrayals of minorities are responsible for race-oriented political activities in the US (German, 1994; Chaffee and German, 1998). German (1994, pp. 285-297) observed the evident policy shift away from minority civil rights toward different types of policy by the Reagan administration and which led the American population to agree that minority groups were no longer disadvantaged in society. Using a content analysis of major news networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS), German determined that minority groups’ inability to remain in the media spotlight has caused problems with race relations in the US and has led to the attitude that these groups are no longer disadvantaged (1994, pp. 285-297). In 1998, Chaffee and German carried out a content analysis of three major newspapers (the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune) to determine what types of coverage minority citizens are receiving. They determined that the small amount of news coverage given to minorities, especially Hispanic Americans, coupled with the negative subject matter of the majority of this coverage, has provided a base for extremely negative attitudes among Americans toward minority groups (1998, pp. 312-320). Further, Kellstedt (2000) determined that the quality of media relations with minority groups determines political policy dynamics of race relations. Typically, an emphasis on individuality leads to conservative racial policy and an emphasis on egalitarianism leads to more liberal racial policies (Kellstedt, 2000, pp. 245-260). Individuality is more often the favorably portrayed media role today.

The portrayal of families in the media has also developed the socialized attitude of American youth toward problem-solving. Often, quick solutions to conflict create a sense of immediate gratification in the eyes of children and distort their view of commitment to a relationship. According to Kubey and Donovan (2001, p. 331), “People have been conditioned to expect quick and easy solutions,” and this may be a key reason why many people are not prepared for the roles of parent and spouse. Content analysis of television programs by experts in psychology, communication, and sociology clearly indicates that television has a large effect on the education of children (German and Lally, 2005).

What follows is a profile of the American public and their use of television and the Internet: who has access, how much they are using it, and what they are ← 85 | 86 → accessing. The increasing widespread use of television and the Internet by almost every American for both information and entertainment can help us to explain the decline in US face-to-face social connectedness.

Media Use Patterns: A Profile of American Children

What is important to note in Table 1 is that access to television has reached almost total saturation, with 99% of households having at least one television. Also, although questions about instant messaging programs were not asked in the Kaiser 1999 survey since it had not yet become popular, almost 60% of households surveyed in 2004 had an instant messaging program. Internet subscription has risen 27% between 1999 and 2004, with 74% of households surveyed having access in the home. Table 1 indicates that American youth are heavy media users.

Table 1: In-home media availability in 2004 and 1999 (Source: Roberts, et al., 2005) *Indicates unavailable data

When access is broken down by race and ethnicity there are some important trends to examine in Table 2. While 99% of all ethnicities own at least one television, African Americans have access to the most television sets, with 81% owning three or more, which is almost 10% more than Whites (73%) or Hispanics (72%). However, when looking at computer ownership, Blacks and Hispanics are 12% and 10% (respectively) behind Whites and when ownership of three or more computers is taken into account the percentage of Whites (15%) who own three or more computers nearly doubles compared to Blacks (9%). Perhaps the most important characteristic to take from Table 2 is the difference in access to the Internet across races. Eighty percent of Whites have access to the Internet at home, but only 61% of Blacks and 67% of Hispanics. ← 86 | 87 →

Table 2: In-home media availability by race and ethnicity (Source: Roberts, et al., 2005) *Indicates unavailable data

As indicated in Table 3, level of education, the greatest predictor of social class, is correlated with who has access to the Internet in the home. Sixty-eight percent of children of parents with a high school education have access to the Internet at home while 82% of children of parents who graduate from college (or more) have access.

Table 3: In-home media availability by parental education (Source: Roberts, et al., 2005) *Indicates unavailable data

One of the most interesting changes in the data comes from the report of differences between boys’ and girls’ access to all multimedia categories, as seen in Table 4. In 1999, boys and girls reported usage of television, the Internet, and the computer in general at roughly the same levels give or take a few percentage points. However, in 2004, there are substantial differences in reports usage, with 8% more boys than girls having access to their own personal television. The difference between boys and girls remains about the same for access to a personal computer (9%) or Internet connection (7%). ← 87 | 88 →

Table 4: Gender and changes in ownership of selected personal media: 1999-2004 (Source: Roberts, et al., 2005)

The number of rules that parents have greatly affects what type of content children are exposed to and how much time they allot daily to each medium. In Table 5, it is very interesting to note that a very small number of the total sample of children in the Kaiser study report (2005) have rules about the amount of time spent watching television and even fewer have rules about what is being viewed. Across genders, children experience about the same number of rules. However, when it comes to looking at rules by race, more Whites (13%) and Hispanics (19%) have rules about television viewing than African Americans (8%). Also, children of parents with some college education or college education and beyond are twice as likely to have some types of rules dealing with watching television.

Table 5: Television rules: percentage of children with television-related rules (Source: Roberts, et al., 2005)

 Rules about amount of time %Rules about type of content %
Total sample1413
African American87
Parent education  
High school910
Some college1512
College or more1614
Household income  
Under $35,0001114
Over $50,0001212

While rules associated with watching television apply to a very small percentage of the sample population, the proportions grow when talking about computers and the Internet (see Table 6). Parental filters are typically in low use across the board. The issue of protecting children from objectionable content on the ← 88 | 89 → Internet first appeared in the early 1990s when the Internet began to increase in popularity. The Child Online Protection Act became law in 1998 and it made it a criminal act to allow children to view harmful material on the Internet. Objectionable sites were able to defend themselves by putting into place a system in order to verify a viewer’s age, such as credit card numbers or access codes.

New technology allows for different types of filters to be applied while accessing the Internet. The two main types of filters are “client side” and “server side.” Client side filters, the more flexible of the two, are software programs that are loaded onto individual computers. Many of these programs are designed specifically for children and work in conjunction with popular web browsers like Internet Explorer or Netscape. The two most popular “client side” filters are Net Nanny and Cyber Patrol (Lenhart, 2005). “Server side” filtering works in one of two ways: ISP (Internet Service Provider) filtering is when an Internet company allows clients to activate controls that block unacceptable sites on their account and web filtering is when clients hire an organization to filter their Internet access for them. Generally, web-based filtering requires a monthly subscription fee. Either method, ISP or web-based, requires Internet access to be filtered through a third party and is less flexible than “client side” filters (Lenhart, 2005). Most of the time, filters have to be paid for and we see that Hispanics are 10% behind Whites and 9% behind Blacks in the use of such filters. Also interesting to note in Table 6 is that for every category of rules, children of parents with a college education are 9% more likely to have rules than children of parents with a high school education.

Table 6: Computer rules: percentage of children with computer-related rules (Source: Roberts, et al., 2005)

← 89 | 90 →

One might argue that the freedom given American children translates into more democratic political orientations as adults than if the children were strictly supervised. But, it does appear that many children’s freedom of choice represents too much of an abdication of parental responsibility.

While new technology is emerging every day, children are not cutting back on television time to fit the newer mediums into their day (see Table 7). They view television just as much today as they did in 1999. However, it is interesting to note that African Americans watch television over an hour more each day than do White children.

Table 7: Television exposure by gender, race, parent education, and household income (Source: Roberts, et al., 2005)

 Average daily television use (hours and minutes)
African American4:05
Parent education 
High school3:12
Some college2:48
College or more3:03
Household income 
Under $35,0003:16
Over $50,0003:08

While we can see that television usage has not gone down between 1999 and 2004, computer and Internet usage has increased significantly, as indicated by Table 8. Children are being exposed to the computer and Internet over a half an hour more in 2004 than they were in 1999. ← 90 | 91 →

Table 8: Computer exposure by hours per day by gender, race, parent education, and household income (recreational) (Source: Roberts, et al., 2005)

 Total computer useTotal Internet use
African American0:520:37
Parent education  
High school0:550:44
Some college0:570:44
College or more1:120:55
Household Income  
Under $35,0000:550:43
Over $50,0001:110:56

When adding up the time children spend with different types of media (watching television, listening to music, watching movies, using the computer, and playing video games), we see that they spend over 7.5 hours using media every day (see Table 9). While some of this media use takes place during the school day, much of it occurs outside of school.

Table 9: Media time vs. time doing other activities (Source: Roberts, et al., 2005)

ActivityTime (hours and minutes)
Watching television3:04
Hanging out with parents2:17
Hanging out with friends2:16
Listening to music1:44
Exercising, sports, etc.1:25
Watching movies/videos1:11
Using a computer1:02
Pursuing hobbies, clubs, etc.1:00
Talking on the telephone0:53
Doing homework0:50
Playing video games0:49
Working at a job0:35
Doing chores0:32

Another important factor is that children who have their own television watch it almost an hour and a half longer each day than children who do not have their ← 91 | 92 → own television set (see Table 10). Those who have their own computer use it an hour and twenty minutes more than children who do not have their own personal computer.

Table 10: Personal media vs. media exposure (Source: Roberts, et al., 2005)

For many years now, child activists and pediatricians have been speaking about the negative effects that television content has on children’s self-esteem and here the Kaiser family foundation has asked some very interesting questions about how content a child is with their appearance in relation to the amount of exposure they have to television and the computer on a daily basis. It is quite obvious from Table 11 that the least content children watch television nearly a half an hour longer each day than those who are most content and they use the computer around 20 minutes longer each day.

Table 11: Media exposure in hours and minutes by contentedness (Source: Roberts, et al., 2005)

Media Use Patterns: A Profile of American Adults

When the Internet became popular, it was said that it could save the ever-increasing levels of apathy among the American public toward politics. However, according to Chadwick (2006, p. 25), in the early years of the Internet, it was the conventional wisdom that those who were looking for political information on the Internet were those citizens who were already active. The 2004 presidential elections and the use of blogs and other types of what is becoming known as e-politics are certain to have long-term effects and new trends are sure to appear (Chadwick, 2006, p. 26).

Table 12 provides a profile of who uses the Internet in the US. It can be seen that many of the lower socio-economic groups use the Internet in the lowest numbers, creating what has been described as a digital divide between the haves and the have-nots in American society; and the gap between people with less than a high school education and those who have a college degree (or more) is more than 50%. It is quite evident from past research that education is one of the greatest predictors of social class. Thus, we can also see the differences in the degree of access to the Internet according to income, race, and age. While lower socioeconomic groups have a lesser degree of access to the Internet, television has ← 92 | 93 → saturated the market, with 99% of households owning a television. Table 13 is from a Nielsen Media Research News Release in 2005 entitled “Americans Watch TV at Record Levels.” Television consumption is increasing in the face of increased Internet use.

Table 12: Demographics of US Internet users 2004 (Source: Chadwick, 2006, p. 73)

DemographicsPercentage Online
65 +25
White, non-Latino67
African American, non-Latino43
Community type 
Household income 
Less than $30,000 per year44
More than $75,00089
Less than high school32
High school52
Some college75
College +88

Table 13: Average hours/minutes of television consumption per day by broadcast year (Source: Nielson Media Research, 2006)

Broadcast yearAverage hours/minutes per day

Table 14 shows the digital divide using several different databases. While the Kent State figures are somewhat different from the other studies, Chadwick (2006, ← 93 | 94 → p. 74) points out that Kent State used some controls that actually make them more accurate. However, the figures seem to be in agreement across all of the studies. They show that education and income seem to be the greatest indicators of who is accessing the Internet. Education and income are closely followed by age and race. This leads to the question, what types of activities are Americans using the Internet for?

Table 14: The access divide in the USA: a survey of surveys (Source: Chadwick, 2006, p. 74)

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NITIA) and the Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) of the US Department of Commerce use the US Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey in A Nation Online (US Department of Commerce, 2002) and an update focusing on broadband technology in 2004 (US Department of Commerce, 2004). It is one of the most comprehensive reports on how Americans are using the Internet. As indicated in Figure 1, Americans who have access to the Internet use it for a variety of reasons. Of those who use the Internet, over 60% use it to find out the news, weather, or sports information, even more use it for some type of product search (i.e., online shopping), but the largest category (84%) use it for e-mail. A poll done by the Pew Research Center in 1998 shows what Americans are interested in when they watch the news – particularly the local news. ← 94 | 95 →

Figure 1: Online activities, ages 15+ (Source: US Department of Commerce, 2002)

So, of the small percentage of Americans who get their news in some way, the largest interest is crime and the second largest interest is in health and community. It is important to note in Table 15 that local government and domestic policy are about 11 and 15 percentage points behind community. Americans have more of an interest in their immediate community than in local or national government.

Table 15: General news interest, June 8, 1998 (Source: Pew Research Center, 1998)

 % who follow very closely
Local government23
Science and technology22
Domestic politics/policy19
Business and finance17
International affairs16
Consumer news15
Culture and the arts12 ← 95 | 96 →

However, overall news viewing has declined steadily since a May 1993 benchmark. Table 16 shows a trend among Americans who say they regularly watch the nightly news. As indicated by Table 16, the number of Americans who regularly watch nightly news on the main networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS) has declined from 60% to 38% in a time period of only five years. While network news viewing among Americans has seen a sharp decline, cable news stations such as CNN enjoyed a rise in viewing numbers until 1998, when the percentage of Americans who watched cable news plunged to 23%, lower than the percentages for any other year. However, it is interesting to note that while the number of Americans who never follow the news in nightly bulletins is rather low, Table 17 indicates that the percentages of Americans who never follow cable news are in many cases higher than for those who regularly watch.

Table 16: Nightly network news viewing (Source: Pew Research Center, 1998)

Table 17: Cable news network viewing (Source: Pew Research Center, 1998)

As the “Cable news network viewing” Pew report (Table 17) suggests, the decline in viewing within the news viewing segment of the American population can be compared to a newer way to access news – the online newspaper. This new medium is especially in evidence among the young and those who are in what Pew terms the “working years” (i.e., ages 30 to 49). Twenty-three percent of the population surveyed by the Pew Research Center report getting their news online every day. Those figures are higher in the 30 to 39 and the 40 to 49 age groups, where the percentages move to 33% and 27% respectively, and rapidly decline to only 7% for the 70+ age group. The authors predict that new generations will produce entirely different patterns, with the elderly being even more involved in the future with electronic news gathering compared to younger age categories since they are the heaviest newspaper consumers today. ← 96 | 97 →

In Table 18, it is interesting to note that the audiences who watch nightly news, morning shows, cable news, sports, and weather, and who use the Internet for news all possess different demographic characteristics in American society; they have different interests that are fulfilled by the type of news medium they choose. While Americans today are clearly not as interested in community events and government politics as the generations before them, they also claim that one more aspect of their lives has disintegrated with their increased television and Internet use: “The Internet could be the ultimate isolating technology that further reduces our participation in communities even more than did automobiles and television before it,” says Dr. Norman Nie of the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society (SIQSS Press Release, 2000). People report that they feel their conversations on the telephone and in person have been reduced due to increased levels of Internet use. As can be seen from Figure 2, more than a quarter of survey participants claim that they are spending less time on the telephone with family and friends due to the Internet.

Table 18: The growing trend of online newspapers (Source: Pew Research Center, 2005)

Analysis and Conclusions

Television and the Internet are increasingly suspected to have a profound effect on the development of identity and the depletion of social capital in American society. Even though the Federal Communications Commission has set guidelines for television through the Children’s Television Act of 1990 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it lacks the power to truly enforce these guidelines. However, there is a lack of research on whether the favorite and often provocative television shows and websites of Americans really do have negative effects on children’s socialization. Many experts believe that television and the Internet are strong agents of socialization, especially citing relationships between violent or sexual content on television and violent behavior or sexual promiscuity in individuals; however, there is disagreement as to what should be done. Under the leadership of Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions reviewed a bill known as the Children and Media Research Advancement Act or CAMRA (see Lieberman, et al., 2004). This bill, which never became law, called for the National Academy of Science to work with the Institute of Medicine ← 97 | 98 → to explore the cognitive, physical, and socio-behavioral effects of media on childhood socialization, and for $90 million to be appropriated. The effect of long-term television and Internet use by Americans is increasingly becoming an issue within American politics, particularly with the loss of social capital in the US. In the next few years, beginning with the CAMRA Act, experts in many fields should need to begin to do more in-depth research on how the explicit themes of television and its consumerist undertones affect the behaviors and opinions of US citizens. As of now, all we can examine is who has access, what are they accessing, and how much time they are spending accessing these media (German and Lally, 2005). Researchers also need to seek answers to the question of how television and the Internet affect the physical health of Americans, which the CAMRA Act calls for. Perhaps, when the research is done and Congress knows how television and the Internet are affecting the socialization of Americans, we can use these media to create a more active political culture.

Figure 2: Internet users spend less time in social activities (Source: Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, 2000)

The Internet is increasingly being used by children and adults in the United States. However, there are dramatic differences in accessibility in the home between higher and lower socio-economic status groups and between racial groups. Hence, the democratization opportunities of free information for all are compromised by the huge digital gap between those who have computers (Asian and ← 98 | 99 → White racial groups and those with high incomes and education) and those who do not (African American, Hispanic, poorly educated, and low-income populations). Many scholars hoped that the Internet would open up the political process and be a check on the influence of big money, and afford poorer groups political access to many people. So far, as the data in this article imply, lower-income, poorly educated, and minority groups still do not have access to this outlet to voice their opinions and gain political ground (Purvis, 2001, p. 327). Congress has begun to use the Internet as a way of communicating with constituents and we are beginning (in particular with the 2000 and 2004 elections) to see a new type of campaigning that may lead to more grass-roots efforts. But the results of this type of campaigning remain to be seen (Purvis, 2001, p. 309). Furthermore, as with television, there are, in the case of the Internet, no studies that actually analyze the social and political development of children and adults resulting from Internet use. It is interesting that the social/political sciences too often ignore these media and often forget the socialization process itself. The genesis of adult behavior begins early in life and these electronic media are increasingly present in children’s lives (German and Lally, 2005). However, some studies conclude that the enormous time spent by individual Americans watching television and accessing the Internet has led to a cutback in the time they spend in face-to-face contact with other people (SIQSS, 2000). The dramatic differences we see between income, educational level, and race contribute to social and information gaps in our society. In conclusion, as the Internet reaches the market saturation levels that television has reached and Americans become even more consumed by this media trend, social capital as we have known it may continue to disintegrate. A new kind of individualized, virtual connectedness will evolve. Can this be good for what is left of the democracy which de Tocqueville saw in the 1830s?


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