Web Deprivation Brings on Withdrawal Symptoms

NEW YORK “The Internet has become a major part of my life. Every day of life without the Internet is frustrating,” a participant in a qualitative study about Web deprivation told researchers.

The comment is one of the many derived from an experiment that examined 13 households made up of 28 total individuals who gave up their Internet connections for 14 days.

Three key themes emerged from the ethnographic study, which was fielded by Conifer Research on behalf of Yahoo! and Omnicom Group’s OMD: The Internet is a security blanket, a 21st century social network and an integral part of the workplace.

“One of the key reasons we did this is to get a little bit deeper into the consumer,” OMD Digital director Sean Finnegan told a crowd this afternoon at Manhattan’s Harvard Club, where the findings were revealed as a part of Advertising Week.

The study found that the Internet makes people feel confident, secure and empowered, with participants reporting that they were hobbled without convenient access to routine information like maps and telephone numbers. So much so that they forgot or lost the desire to use “old fashioned tools,” like the phone book, newspapers and telephone-based customer service.

Communications figured most prominently in the Web withdrawal, with the study showing that the Net affords people the ability to overcome time and distance and manage communications with a larger social network. As a result, during the deprivation period, participants’ outer circle of relationships suffered.

In the workplace, the participants expressed that they looked unproductive and lazy to their colleagues when they called friends or read the newspaper. The Internet helped them conceal these activities, and move quickly in and out of their professional and personal duties.

Given the results, it comes as no surprise that the research firm had trouble recruiting for the study because people did not want to relinquish their Web service, as Yahoo! chief sales officer Wenda Harris Millard related. Participants, who kept daily video and written diaries during the two weeks, were paid $1,000 each.

According to a complementary quantitative study conducted by Ipsos-Insight, 47 percent of the 1,000 U.S. online households surveyed felt the Web made it easier to manage personal and professional relationships. The study also found that 48 percent said they could not go without the Internet for more than two weeks, and three-quarters agreed that the Web gave them an advantage over those without a connection in terms of achieving lower prices, quicker service and more convenience.

—with Catharine P. Taylor