In defense of 'mindless' Web browsing

— -- What brought you here, anyway? For many of you, it was complete happenstance.

(Regardless, I'm glad you're here. Have a seat.)

A study from the Pew Internet and Life Project on Friday reported that 53% of those 18-29 years old go online "for no particular reason except to have fun or to pass the time."

The study highlighted a big generation gap. Just 12% of those 65 or older said they go online for no particular reason.

It's an easy excuse for a punch line, and many have taken the opportunity.

My colleague, Free Press columnist Mitch Albom, had a somewhat curmudgeonly take in his Sunday column, writing that this kind of aimless activity has led to the proliferation of some of the more mindless content online.

"When you're not looking for anything special, the un-special will do just fine," he wrote.

The study was also a good excuse for some funny headlines. My favorite came from the frequently snarky New York Daily News: " Americans love going online for no reason at all, least shocking study ever finds."

The generational gap here goes deeper than just a difference in habits, though.

For those who didn't grow up on the Web, it serves as a destination. They mostly sign on to perform a specific task. It's where they go to get things done.

(And for those who remember painfully slow dial-up modems, having a specific game plan in mind when the Web finally appeared was a significant time-saver.)

But for those who grew up with the Web, it's not a destination. It's a platform. A pathway. It's just the conduit. The highway.

And there are parallels for this sort of so-called mindless meandering.

Haven't you ever called your mother for "no reason"? Or walked outside for a refreshing walk to nowhere particular?

When I wake up in the morning, I reach for my smartphone. Why? No reason, really. Just to see what's changed. Is that wasted time? No. I see what's new — what's going to frame my day.

Studies have also shown that online social skills are not inherently a regression. Those forming new bonds online are having to learn just as many social cues and interaction techniques as those formed in person.

Yes, for some the Internet is little more than a time-wasting device. But for the other 99%, it's an important tool for productivity, social interaction and, yes, amusement.

This doesn't rule out a rich, offline life. The study only required that respondents have gone online for no reason just once in a given day.

The Internet is just one of the places we go. And that's OK.

I'll see you there.

Contact Mark W. Smith at Follow him on Twitter: @markdubya or subscribe to his posts on Facebook or on Google+.