America is rapidly becoming a nation of computer users. A Census Bureau study finds 74.9 million people now have regular contact with the information machines.
But present-day computing falls short of the shining future foreseen by the early enthusiasts.They saw computers as devices that would empower users, simplify their lives, enable them to join together in broad electronic communities and become a wiser people.
Instead, the study released Tuesday found that computers most frequently have made Americans better typists and game players.
The study, based on a 1989 survey, said 32 percent of Americans age 3 and older used computers at work, home or school. That was a jump from the 21 percent, or 46.6 million, found in a similar survey in 1984.
Fifteen percent of all households had a computer in 1989, up from 8 percent five years earlier.
Forty-six percent of children in schools had access to computers, up from 28 percent in 1984.
Since the first commercially successful home computer, the Altair, hit the market in 1974, personal computers have grown in power to rival machines that once cost millions and filled rooms with equipment.
Yet all that power goes to relatively trivial uses, the survey found.
Sixty-two percent of home-computer owners use their machines for word processing, a class of program that makes light demands on a computer's capabilities. That's also the most prevalent use in the office.
The next most common home use was playing video games. That application was mentioned by 44 percent of adults and 84 percent of children.
The study also suggested that many computer owners were using machines that lacked much of the power available today.