Technology

Half of Americans Say Computer and Cell Phone Are Necessities

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Like a work-oriented snail, I carry my office everywhere I go. My computer and phone fit into my purse (admittedly a large purse) and I get antsy when I don't have Internet access. A growing number of Americans are with me on this, according to today's Pew Research Center daily email:

Pew's hierarchy of needs

The surprise hit: Microwaves, which 68 percent now consider a necessity. 

Far more interesting than any particular difference in the 1996 and 2006 figures, though, is the fact that four things which essentially didn't exist in 1996 became necessities for significant portions of the population 10 years later. 

(Additional note: I wonder if iPhones and the like will do strange things to the growth figures on computers and high speed Internet?)

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  1. Economically? Yes. Otherwise, no.

  2. The surprise hit: Microwaves, which 68 percent now consider a necessity.

    Because most people are shitty cooks.

  3. Wow..this made me think…I really don’t NEED any of those, well we need a truck for our work, really we do. But other than that…though I’d miss the washer and dryer, because I’m lazy. So the top three..yeah. But we chose to live in a place close (within a mile) of everything we need and where the business is.

    The rest, either don’t own ’em, like the dishwasher or AC or cell phone, or while I enjoy them..I could live without them as well. Though I do work on my comp. But I used to work on my typewriter, too..yeah, I’m that old.

  4. I’m kinda surpised home air conditioning is that high. (esp since it’s greater than TV). More people are living in the sun belt than even I thought.

  5. Kolohe, even in New England, AC is a “necessity”. Summers are hot and ungodly humid.

  6. Kolohe,

    I find it more necessary than a dishwasher or washer and dryer (since I don’t have any of them), and I live in New England.

  7. More people are living in the sun belt than even I thought.

    When a hurricane or tropical storm knocks out the power in the summer time, you miss air conditioning far more than anything else on that list.

  8. Why the fuck do people use the term “iPod” to refer to all mp3 players? That is really annoying.

  9. mk: here’s a kleenex, now hop in my jeep.

    it’s just the way things work. apple, being a giant pile of shit, catches many flies (who eat the poo).

    there’s a metaphor in there…somewhere.

  10. No surprise that as the standard of living increases those items that people consider “necessary” expand in scope.

    I would have been really surprised if any of the items had actually been seen as less necessary.

  11. They should change the poll question to things that people consider a “right”. You can keep some of these same things on the list, but add employment, healthcare, private Boeing 747 and others to the list.

    Now that would be an interesting poll.

  12. I look at this chart and think – look at how much needier we are!

  13. swillfredo pareto | January 30, 2009, 2:47pm | #
    When a hurricane or tropical storm knocks out the power in the summer time, you miss air conditioning far more than anything else on that list.

    QFTMFT

  14. I’m also a little surprised that cable still beat out Internet – although that was in 2006…

  15. No dishwasher was only an inconvenience before we had kids, but now we’d hate life without it. So many dishes now and less eating out, too.

    Of everything on the list besides car, I value air conditioning the most. It allows all those other entertainment items to be worth staying home for…and are these only considered nedcessities for personal ownership? Because if I didn’t have a washer and dryer I would still go to a laundromat. I don’t want to wash my clothes in the Hudson River every day. So, in that regard it’s a necessity. Without air conditioning at work, I think I’d kill someone.

  16. Well, you have to define “necessary”. Do you mean necessary for bare survival, or necessary to continue living at the standard you’re used to?

    For instance, there was a period during this summer where I didn’t have Internet access at home, and it made me realize how dependent on it I was. Suddenly I had to wait through TV news casts to find out the weather forecast; had to dig out a phone book to find a business’ location and phone number; had to use an atlas to find the location of someone’s house, etc. Now the lack of Internet didn’t threaten my survival in any way, and I quickly found alternative ways to do everything I used the Internet for. But it was seriously annoying.

  17. Only 35% say dishwasher? That’s crazy!!!

  18. I’m also a little surprised that cable still beat out Internet – although that was in 2006…

    My thought too, Moose. For me (and probably lots of other overeducated, coastal urbanites), internet & cell phone rank higher than anything else on that list. But then again, we’re douchebags.

  19. The internet is actually helping combine many of these things into one. For instance, my cousin does not own a TV, DVD player, has no cable or satellite TV, or CD player. He has the 24″ screen iMac and a high-speed internet connection. He watches TV (hulu.com) and DVDs on it, rips music to iTunes, surfs the web, does Skype, and does work on it. All for whatever that iMac costs.

  20. “Why the fuck do people use the term “iPod” to refer to all mp3 players?”

    I agree that is annoying, but the iPod touch is also an internet device.

  21. Tulpa –
    I went without Internet for… exactly a week and a half right after I moved into my new apartment. What a total living hell. I had to go to public access locations just to check my email, and I realized that I had to do that in order to so much as look at the different internet plans I could order.

    I still don’t have cable – I use a combination of broadcast HD and Hulu for my viewing pleasure.

    I imagine if you broke down the respondents who said that High-Speed Internet was a necessity, you’d find a larger yes response the younger the survey population got. I’m a little puzzled at why half of americans would view a home computer as necessary while only 30% of them said that High Speed Internet was. WTF are you going to do with a computer these days without the Internet? We used to do it all the time, sure, but why bother anymore? Word processing?

  22. Being as how I am a longtime Volvo driver, I have learned to do without car air conditioning (It’s always the first thing to break on a Volvo and they make it prohibitively expensive to fix). It’s not fatal to do without, even in a DC summer, but quality of life is worth something to be sure.

    Dishwashers and microwaves aren’t all that great really. AC is the fucking best thing ever. Of course, I am a survivor of hyperthyroidism; air conditioning may have saved my life.

  23. If all you eat are “Eating Right, Eating Lite Microwavable Entrees” and toaster strudels, you can just wash your one fork by hand when you’re done eating.

    No dishwasher necessary.

  24. I don’t remember what I did before I had an iPhone. And that was only like a year ago.

  25. Also, I think it would have been instructive to include “phone” as a category, and then break it down into “landline” and “cellular.” Those responding that a cell phone are necessities could either mean “as my only line” or “as a secondary line.” Whereas those responding that a landline is necessary would almost surely mean “as my main line.” From that we could gather what the overall percentage of americans think that phones in general are a necessity (I’d guess in the 90-100% range), and then how many of those would find a landline an acceptible form of that.

  26. If you like to cook, dishwashers are essential. Microwaves are not, though if you need to defrost some meat in a hurry they can be useful.

  27. If all you eat are “Eating Right, Eating Lite Microwavable Entrees” and toaster strudels, you can just wash your one fork by hand when you’re done eating. use that fork to stab yourself in the throat.

    FTFY. ;-P

  28. AC? You people are weak.

  29. And if this is all true, people really need to be instructed on what “necessity” means.

  30. For me (and probably lots of other overeducated, coastal urbanites), internet & cell phone rank higher than anything else on that list. But then again, we’re douchebags.

    If I weren’t so busy working my advanced degree at an Eastern college, I’d probably still be laughing at this.

  31. …working on my advanced degree…

    No wonder it’s taken me 16 years to get that MA in English…

  32. “AC? You people are weak.”

    Or Floridians.

  33. My view of air conditioning is a bit skewed; I grew up in DC where it was absolutely a nessessity but both grandmothers living in NYC/Yonkers never had it. The brief times I lived in Connecticut my aparments never had it either (but I was only there from Sep-Feb). None of the relatives in Nova Scotia have it. And in fact relatively few people in Hawaii have it (or at least not central air systems). I’ve been here on and off for 12 years, lived in 6 different places and my current apt is only the second one to have it (and the other one was a high rise). Yay for trade winds.

  34. I suspect Florida would be as populated as Idaho without AC.

  35. I’ve gone without each of those things at some point from the start of college to now (12 years) but only one at a time. It’s a pain but there are ways to deal with missing one convenience. Missing all those conveniences at the same time is something very different. We are spoiled but good for us. Enjoy capitalism.

  36. For those worried about energy usage –
    The good news.
    Car -2
    Clothes Washer +4 (it’s better than driving to the laundromat)
    Dishwasher +22
    Microwave +36
    Cell phones +49 (how many auto trips have been saved?)
    High speed internet. (It saves some electricity by reducing intertubez waiting time.)

    The bad news
    Clothes Dryer +21 (what about the clothes line, America?)
    Home A/C +19
    TV +5
    Cable or Satellite TV +16
    Ipod +3

    The not sure news
    Car A/C +9(Aerodynamic drag of open windows vs. engine drag of A/C compressor.
    Home computer +49 (It uses electricity but I’m saving a lot of tree IRT the newspaper.)
    Flat screen TV +5 (Does a plasma or LED TV save juice compared to a CRT?)

  37. I’m also a little surprised that cable still beat out Internet – although that was in 2006…

    We’re canceling our cable at the end of this month and getting any TV shows we still want to watch via Internet. TVs just a distraction from facebook and Hit & Run, after all.

    We wouldn’t want to live without a clothes dryer, but we plan on putting up a clothesline. I remember from my childhood, how much nicer line-dried clothes felt.

    There’s always one or two especially hot weeks every summer when I have to talk my wife out of wanting air conditioning.

  38. “If you like to cook, dishwashers are essential.”

    Absolutely! I cook gourmet meals from scratch all of the time. And even though I used to cook professionally and maintain a neat and organized kitchen at all times, it does produce a ton of dishes. If I spend three hours cooking, I don’t want to spend two more washing dishes. I just want to load up the dishwasher, start a movie, sip a bit of wine and fire up a fatty.

  39. Why the fuck do people use the term “iPod” to refer to all mp3 players? That is really annoying.

    In the old days it was the not so generic Walkman?.

    Why don’t you Xerox? that complaint and pass it around? Or maybe post it on-line so people can Google? it?

    It’s what happens when you have achieved a certain level of market dominance.

  40. ” all you eat are “Eating Right, Eating Lite Microwavable Entrees” and toaster strudels, you can just wash your one fork by hand when you’re done eating.”

    I just “Eating Right, Eating Lite Ethiopian Entrees”. Saves me from having to wash a fork.

  41. J sub D –
    LCDs and CRTs use about the same per the same height, although LCDs are seriously better TVs (obviously) and wider at that height.
    Plasmas, I believe, have serious energy usage issues.

  42. Good cooks use microwaves to reheat food. If used on lower power, it’s better than using the oven, because it doesn’t try out the food so much.

  43. “We plan on putting up a clothesline. I remember from my childhood, how much nicer line-dried clothes felt.”

    My next-door neighbor put up a clothes line. She used it briefly. That is, until the birds started shitting on everything.

  44. Not to quibble, but the first commercial cell phone network was launched almost two decades before 1996 (in 1978). What’s amazing is how low cost plans and smaller took cell phones from being used primarily by douchebags (Gordon Gekko, Zach Morris) to being ubiquitous and universally used.

    I remember back in the mid-90s, when I was in high school, we used pagers to contact each other while on the go. Looking back, what a fucking useless piece of technology that is unless you’re slinging or a doctor.

  45. J sub D,

    I can’t think of anything clever to WindowsPC? you in response to your Internet Explorer? mail.

  46. Having a loaded gun is a necessity.

  47. It’s what happens when you have achieved a certain level of market dominance.

    Frisbees, Band-Aids, Jello, RollerBlades…

    My parents once told me that “Frigidaire” also used to be used this way.

  48. If I spend three hours cooking, I don’t want to spend two more washing dishes. I just want to load up the dishwasher

    Once you’ve had a dishwasher, washing dishes again is unthinkable. I bought a rolling one for my apartment in Manhattan (luckily my kitchen was huge and I had plenty of room for it), and it made a huge difference.

    Good cooks use microwaves to reheat food. If used on lower power, it’s better than using the oven, because it doesn’t try out the food so much.

    See, you made a fatal blunder, ProL. Good cooks don’t reheat food.

  49. My parents once told me that “Frigidaire” also used to be used this way.

    I’m sure most people did use it that way, that is until some hero stepped up and said “Why the fuck do people use the term “frigidaire” to refer to all refrigerators? That is really annoying”.

    Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to Toyota? home in my Volvo.

  50. because it doesn’t try out the food so much.

    Do you have some sort of troll living in your oven, perhaps?

  51. Dishwasher = sink plus child labor, no?

    (cooks don’t wash is the rule, so since I cook, I never wash, even when no kids are available)

    Microwave: haven’t owned one since the 90’s. They just waste counter top.

  52. “My parents once told me that “Frigidaire” also used to be used this way”

    Well when I was about five, my dad told me that those big canisters you sometimes see up on telephone poles were filled with frogs. Lying bastard.

  53. “(cooks don’t wash is the rule, so since I cook, I never wash, even when no kids are available)”

    You must smell awful!

  54. I’m sure most people did use it that way, that is until some hero stepped up and said “Why the fuck do people use the term “frigidaire” to refer to all refrigerators? That is really annoying”.

    And the fact that he didn’t get ever a biopic made about his life is a tragedy. A damn tragedy.

  55. Well when I was about five, my dad told me that those big canisters you sometimes see up on telephone poles were filled with frogs. Lying bastard.

    Bet his face was red after you dared your pal to shimmy up the pole and grab all the frogs.

  56. My next-door neighbor put up a clothes line. She used it briefly. That is, until the birds started shitting on everything.

    Maybe I suppressed that part of the memory. We’ll find out.

  57. what about the clothes line, America?

    Compared to an electric or gas-fired dryer, they have poor availability and high latency.

  58. The cell phone question is a little goofy though.

    Everyone needs a phone pretty much. But more and more I think people on limited budgets are ditching the land line and just having a cell phone. Other than signal strength and quality, the cell phone is superior to land lines in every way, and as time goes on I suspect the signal quality advantages will be more and more narrowed.

    You don’t need a car in much of the urban areas of the country. A driver’s license maybe, but not necessarily a car.

    But obviously what someone “needs” varies greatly from person to person.

  59. “Other than signal strength and quality, the cell phone is superior to land lines in every way, and as time goes on I suspect the signal quality advantages will be more and more narrowed.”

    I have both for redundancy’s sake.

    After a huge storm knocked out the electricity and cell phone service (the latter, I suspect, due to system overload) I was able to call folks on my landline princess phone and access the internet.

    I was planning to fly to Denver the next morning so a telephone and Internet connectivity were a must.

  60. what about the clothes line, America?

    Well, in the climate I live in for 3 months a year if you put damp clothes outside, they get frozen rather than dried.

    I could get by without AC though.

  61. Sure they do, Episiarch. Only people who think cooking is a hobby don’t.

  62. Why didn’t people “need” these things before they existed? Seems like the word “need” has changed. I need an Asprin?.

  63. I need my wife.

  64. Don’t need a car? Where do they reside; prison, mental institution, old folks home, or, shudder, NYC, Paris (wait, even the French are more car-centric than ever, except for Parisians)…you surely don’t depend on govt monopoly mass trainsets for your daily needs do you?

  65. “you surely don’t depend on govt monopoly mass trainsets for your daily needs do you?”

    Feet, taxis and budget airlines actually
    you can?t drink and drive so one of them had to go

  66. I use and enjoy the convenience of everything on that list except the dishwasher.

    For me, it takes less time and effort to wash dishes by hand than to load and unload a dishwasher.

  67. Oh good gods, my carbon footprint is so low when compared to this “needs list”. My farts smell sooooo good too.

    Seriously though, most of this stuff is crap. Microwave, dishwasher, clothes dryer, TV, cable? You can get along just fine without any of this garbage. It’s Century 21, baby! All you need is the Net and a toaster-oven and you are a fully functioning human being.

  68. Epi, I spent 4 hours making a huge batch of pulled pork with chile verde filling for tacos yesterday for the Bowl.

    I would rather eat a dog turd than anything COOKED in a microwave. But, when I got ready to eat lunch today, I pulled leftovers out. One guess as to what I used to reheat the pulled pork, warm the tortillas, etc.

  69. BTW, WTF are the 4 things that essentially didn’t exist in ’96??? I didn’t get a cell phone till ’98, but everything else on the list in double digits I owned in ’96.

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