Photo: David Davies (Flickr)

The gadgets we use can be a good indicator of where our society is at today, and where it’s going in the future. And judging by numbers from a recent survey by the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration), some encouraging tech trends have been occurring over the last couple years.

The data, which was part of a supplement to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, polled more than 123,000 people across all 50 states (and D.C.) and suggests that the digital divide between Americans continues to shrink.

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Part of this change was driven by increased internet access for 13.5 million people, a large portion of which consisted of low-income families, senior citizens, and minorities. This pushed the number of Americans who used the internet in November 2017 to 78 percent, a three percent increase from 75 percent back in July 2015.

Graphic: NTIA

Internet access among Hispanics saw one of the biggest jumps, increasing from 66 percent to 72 percent between 2015 and 2017. However, the most encouraging stat may be that for families earning under $25,000, internet use increased to 62 percent, up from 57 percent just two years ago. That said, there’s still a significant internet access gap between families making less then $25,000 and those making $50,000 and more, which have remained at 80 percent or higher since 2015.

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The survey also highlighted the shift in how people are accessing the internet, with 88.9 million people opting for mobile data plans versus 85.3 million for traditional wired broadband. That reinforces a trend that for more and more people, smartphones are their primary means of using the internet, something that will only become more important with the arrival of 5G in late 2018 and early 2019.

Graphic: NTIA

When you dig into individual device statistics, this is also borne out by data showing that 64 percent of Americans used a smartphone in 2017, versus 46 percent for laptops. Surprisingly, despite the boom in PC gaming, tablet use actually surpassed desktops for the first time ever in the U.S., at 32 percent for tablets versus 30 percent for desktops, according to the study.

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The internet has been long hailed as the best way to distribute information, so it’s good to see more people get access to the wealth of knowledge (among others things) available online. However, with concerns over data caps of between 20GB and 30GB for even the most expensive mobile phone plans, compared to limits of 200GB or more for wired broadband, and the big (though slowly shrinking) gap between internet access for low and high-income families, it’s clear there’s still a lot of work to do.