American Time Use Survey 2013 : Where is Computer, Mobile use?

American Time Use - Where is computer mobile Internet - StratoServeToday a TV announcer was hesitantly happy that Americans are reportedly watching 2.46 hours of TV a day, (up 11 minutes) from 2003. This from the Wall Street Journal story about the 2013 American Time Use Survey (ATUS)  of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor. The hesitation to celebrate, that TV is becoming stronger, is understandable. Because TV folks know that there is just too much competition for American eyeballs from the Internet including social media that is accessed from computers,tablets and mobiles- even while watching TV.  So we decided to research why computer, mobile and generally the Internet was not covered in the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. Here is what we found:

  • It may not be the telephone survey: One comment on the WSJ story suggests that since the survey was conducted on telephone – it had biased responses. Who answers telephone surveys these days? Given that the BLS folks are  good at what they do, that's not the reason. See the ATUS Technical note.
  • It may be the survey questions and the tyranny of time series econometrics: The survey questions remain the same to allow econometric analysis over time, which is great. The problem is that American and global behavior is changing rapidly over the last few years.Should the questions change to reflect real behavior?  For example, according to PEW research, 87% of Americans use the Internet. See ATUS Questionnaires.
  • The answer may be in coding of responses: The ATUS coding rules might have the answer to where the Internet use behavior of Americans is hidden in the ATUS. We quote from page 19 of the 2013 ATUS coding rules:

    "Using the computer: Code the activity the respondent did as the primary
    activity. For example, if the respondent used the computer to search for
    work, code as Job Search and Interviewing (0504xx). If the respondent
    used the computer to pay bills or for financial management, code as
    Household Activities/Household Management/Financial management
    (020901). If used for playing games, code as Socializing, Relaxing, and
    Leisure/Relaxing and Leisure/Playing games (120307). If used to write
    letters, code as Household Activities/Household Management/HH and
    personal mail and messages (except e-mail) (020903). If respondent
    reports computer use for leisure, or can’t/won’t specify the purpose, code
    as Socializing, Relaxing, and Leisure/Relaxing and Leisure/Computer use
    for leisure (exc. games) (120308)."

The above is a relief as it appears that any Internet, computer and mobile use is most likely included in the other categories of activities in the ATUS.

It is hard to believe that Americans spend less than TV time in front of their Internet devices. Just watch what people do as they wait for a plane,bus,doctor, or a  date- they are working their smart phones if not a tablet ! It might be a good idea to have some direct Internet questions in the next round of the ATUS or modify the coding. Contact StratoServe.

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