On several questions, African Americans, sometimes joined by Hispanics, were more enthusiastic about the changes than whites were. While two-thirds of blacks said the digital revolution had improved the way that Americans connect with one another, only 50 percent of whites (and 51 percent of Hispanics) agreed. Both African Americans (64 percent) and Hispanics (60 percent) were more likely than whites (52 percent) to say the changes have benefited all Americans, rather than those with higher incomes. Blacks and Hispanics were also slightly more likely than whites to expect that future technological advances will improve their quality of life (though the difference fell within the poll’s margin of error).
Generally, both minorities and whites without a college education were just as enthusiastic about these changes as their counterparts with four-year college degrees or more. The exception: College-educated respondents, both minorities and whites, were much more likely than their non-college brethren to expect benefits from future advances. Across partisan lines, Democrats were more likely than Republicans or Independents to believe that communications advances have already knit Americans together more closely and will provide benefits in the future.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the concern about the impact of digital technologies on how children interact with family and friends, parents expressed more ambivalence about these changes than childless adults did. While those without children saw the changes as improving the way Americans connect by a lopsided margin, 58 percent to 37 percent, parents split more closely, 51 percent positive to 40 percent negative. (Respondents also felt considerable unease about the specific impact of the communications changes on young people, as a later story in this series will show.)
On questions that specifically assessed the economic impact of the digital revolution, the survey found Americans split even more closely. More respondents said the changes have created more American jobs than they’ve cost. But only 46 percent voiced this positive view, less than the majority that gave a thumbs-up on other questions about the digital revolution’s impact. Thirty-eight percent held the negative view, that technological changes in communications and computers have mostly cost jobs.
On the question of jobs, optimism coincided with youth. Millennials (54 percent positive) and Generation X (52 percent) were much more likely to view the digital revolution as a job-creator than Baby Boomers (just 35 percent) were. The very oldest respondents (49 percent) were nearly as positive as the young.
Two respondents encapsulated this generational divide. Anderson, the 54-year-old retired auto salesman, has seen the pressure that online commerce can exert on retail jobs—on selling cars, say. “You can buy items online so you don’t need as much retail personnel,” he fears. But Kowalski, the 18-year-old wind-technology student, foresees a steady stream of new jobs. “Anything that has to do with electrical or technological capabilities, there has to be somebody who has to maintain it, so that opens up a job,” he said. “It’ll be good for younger generations, I’m sure, because of how many jobs will be opening up.”