Computer use keeps climbing in California, poll finds

We Californians love our computers. We surf and tweet and friend and link. We have a need for (broadband) speed and can’t get enough fiber … optics.

A new statewide study this week confirms that, especially in today’s economy, we’re using our computers more than ever.

“At a time when people are cutting back on luxuries, we seem to be seeing the computer as a necessity,” said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California. “I find it remarkable that in these tough economic times Californians … are continuing to increase their use of Internet.”

In a PPIC statewide study released Wednesday, the number of California residents who own computers, have access to the Internet at home and use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook is up from a year ago.

Overall Internet usage climbed to 76 percent, up from 70 percent a year ago, based on the June survey of more than 2,500 adult Californians.

Baldassare said computers have become increasingly indispensable for everything from looking for work to finding housing to consuming news.

Consider the numbers:

• Four percent more Californians have home Internet access than last year – 67 percent compared to 63 percent in 2008.

• Computer ownership is also up slightly. Today, 75 percent of Californians own a computer, compared to 72 percent in 2008.

• Use of social networking sites climbed 11 points to 37 percent.

The latter figure “really jumped out at us,” Baldassare said. “(Social networking) has certainly taken over the 18-34 age group, but we’re also seeing it used by those 35 and older,” he said. “In tough economic times, you can cut out the car. It’s an economical way to look for work.”

Not surprisingly, income was directly tied to computer usage. In households with incomes of $80,000 or more, 97 percent use computers or have access to the Internet. For those with annual incomes less than $40,000, just 65 percent used computers and 58 percent used the Internet.

Given Californians’ increasing computer usage and access, users should be vigilant against identity theft when online, said John Harrison with Symantec, a Cupertino-based Internet security firm.

In 2008, Californians filed more identity theft complaints – 51,140 – than any other state in the nation, according to a recent compilation of Federal Trade Commission data.

To prevent becoming an ID victim, Harrison recommended using more than one password for your online accounts, such as banking, shopping, Facebook or MySpace.

“If you use the same password in all of your accounts, that can lead to problems,” Harrison said.

He also advised regular updates of your computer’s operating system to protect against viruses and Web attacks.

“Your computer can be compromised and you’d have no idea,” he said.

And amid the growing popularity of social networking Web sites, discretion can go a long way in protecting vital personal and financial information.

“(Users) often put more information out there than they should,” Harrison said. “Be careful with the information you share. It’s going to more than just the people you’re communicating with.”

For more information, go to: and click on “Identity Theft.”