3.0 Cheers for Technology

Technology is seldom an unmixed blessing. But compared to the rest of what transpired in the past decade, the spread of new (and nearly new) technologies looks pretty good. At least, it gets favorable marks from respondents to a survey, fielded last month by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, that asked respondents to evaluate the much-unloved ’00s.

One part of the poll presented a list of items and asked respondents to say whether each has been a “change for the better,” “hasn’t made much difference” or has been a “change for the worse.” Sizable majorities gave “change for the better” status to cell phones (69 percent), green products (68 percent), e-mail (65 percent) and the Internet (65 percent), though double-digit “change for the worse” numbers went to cell phones (14 percent) and the Internet (16 percent).

Opinion was more equivocal, though still skewing positive, about devices like BlackBerrys and iPhones (56 percent “better,” 25 percent “worse”) and online shopping (54 percent “better,” 15 percent “worse”). As for social-networking sites, the “better” tally (35 percent) barely exceeded that “hasn’t made much difference” vote (31 percent, with 21 percent opting for “worse”).

Young adults are the most well-disposed toward new mobile technologies, as you’d expect. Seventy-two percent of the 18-29-year-olds said they regard handheld devices like BlackBerrys and iPhones as a “change for the better,” an opinion shared by 62 percent of the 30-49-year-olds, 51 percent of the 50-64s and 33 percent of the 65-plusers.

But one can easily overstate young adults’ enthusiasm for new technologies. Although often viewed as avid online social networkers, 18-29-year-olds were almost as likely to say the rise of social sites “hasn’t made much difference” (37 percent) as they were to call it a “change for the better” (45 percent). The same is true for blogs, with 39 percent of the 18-29s saying the blogosphere “hasn’t made much difference,” vs. 44 percent deeming it a “change for the better.”

Similarly, while a majority of 18-29s said e-mail is a “change for the better,” the 30-49s were even more likely to say so-74 percent vs. 69 percent, along with 65 percent of the 50-64s and 45 percent of the 65-plusers.

Online shopping’s constituency is also strongest in the 30-49 age bracket, with 65 percent of these respondents calling it a “change for the better,” topping the 55 percent of 18-29s who said the same. Forty-nine percent of the 50-64-year-olds and 39 percent of the 65-plusers also had this positive view of online shopping.