Are PC Windows Better Than the Real Thing?

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Can't wait for Willard Scott to slog through all those centenarian birthday wishes to find out if you'll need your umbrella today? It might be faster to boot up your computer and log on to the Internet to know what's going on outside in your neighborhood. It sounds ridiculous, but you won't be alone: A new poll shows that Americans are pointing and clicking for weather information more often than for any other form of news on the Net.

The poll, released Thursday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, finds that 64 percent of online news readers want the weather; only 42 percent are looking for local news. Have scores of users turned what's arguably the world's most powerful tool for communication into little more than a virtual elevator in which to make small talk about the last nor'easter? "What it says to me is this is a more mainstream medium," says TIME technology writer Chris Taylor. "The Internet is growing. Most people use the news sites at work, where they may not even see a window. They're wondering what the weather will be like on their commute home." The survey supports this idea: In 1996 only 23 percent of Americans used the Internet; today more than 40 percent do. The fact that most people want the weather doesn't mean they aren't staying online to get other news as well. Do we sound defensive? We're not. Really.