WASHINGTON – The next Bill Gates is more likely to come from China or Japan than the United States, according to a poll of Americans’ Internet attitudes released Wednesday.

Most Americans polled also think that new camera and Internet technologies are turning the United States “into a nation of voyeurs and paparazzi.” And by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans say they would rather watch an old-fashioned TV evening news report’s coverage of an event than the sort of “citizen video” that has become increasingly popular.

The nationwide poll of 1,203 adults was conducted this month by Zogby International for a Washington firm, 463 Communications, that works with the tech industry. The poll has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

An overwhelming majority of those polled (83 percent) believes a typical 12-year-old knows more about the Internet than the average member of Congress. That may reflect YouTube’s widely viewed clip of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, describing the Internet as “a series of tubes.”

But even with YouTube’s popularity, most Americans still favor a traditional news source – an evening news broadcast – over citizen videos for coverage of the same event. One out of four younger Americans (ages 25 to 34) would prefer the video over conventional news coverage.

Both Republicans and Democrats by a 7-to-3 margin would prefer an evening news report, while independents were slightly more willing to choose a citizen video.

Most respondents were optimistic about the reach of the Internet, with a majority saying that within 10 years every place in the world will have online access.

Participants were given a choice of six countries that “the next Bill Gates is likely to come from.” First choice was China (26.7 percent), followed by Japan (22.4 percent), the United States (20.8 percent), India (13 percent), Russia (2.1 percent) and Brazil (.4 percent).

All age groups thought China was more likely to produce the next Gates, though higher-income Americans ($100,000 salary and above) were more bullish about American prospects, listing the United States first, followed by India and China.

“The next Bill Gates has already been born, and time will tell what country is providing the environment of innovation, entrepreneurism and opportunity to enable him or her to flourish with the next great idea,” said Tom Galvin, a partner in the 463 firm.

Internet access has become a necessity for many, but a car that works is still more important – 78 to 10 percent – according to the poll. For those making more than $100,000 a year, 31 percent said loss of Internet and e-mail access would make it harder to get work done than the loss of a car.

The perception of the Internet’s impact is undeniable. Two-thirds of those polled said the printing press was a more important invention, but 32 percent chose the Internet over Gutenberg – as did 51 percent of Hispanics and 85 percent of Asian Americans.

Democrats are perceived to enjoy a slight advantage for being Internet-savvy.

Asked to choose between political parties, a plurality (29.7 percent) said Democrats “have a better grasp of the Internet and its importance” than Republicans (20 percent). But 30.8 percent said they were not sure, and 12.4 percent said neither party had an edge.


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