Mark Smith (@markdubya) of the Detroit Free Press had a good read this morning entitled ‘In defense of ‘mindless’ Web browsing.’

The impetus for Smith’s story was a report released last Friday from the Pew Internet and Life Project that Americans are increasingly going online “for no particular reason except to have fun or to pass the time.” Others in the media cited the study as evidence of American’s mindless activity and a cause of all the worthless content on the Internet.

Not so fast per Smith. For some the Internet may be nothing more than a time-wasting device, but for the other 99%, the Internet is an important tool for productivity and social interaction.

Understandably, there’s going to be some generation gap.

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…….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 what’s so bad about “mindless meandering,” as Smith calls it?

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.

The take away for lawyers is the need to have an Internet presence – to go where the people are. From the Pew report itself:

…[I]nternet users of all ages are much more likely now than in the past to say they go online for no particular reason other than to pass the time or have fun. Some 58% of all adults (or 74% of all online adults) say they use the internet this way. And a third of all adults (34%) say they used the internet that way “yesterday” – or the day before Pew Internet reached them for the survey. Both figures are higher than in 2009 when we last asked this question and vastly higher than in the middle of the last decade.

The report author and Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, Lee Rainie, told Mashable:

These findings are one of our main signs about how deeply Internet use has woven itself into the rhythms of people’s lives. When they have some down time, more and more of them are finding the Internet a fun, diverting place to spend their leisure moments. It’s not necessarily surprising to see that this is a favorite pastime of young adults. It is a bit surprising to see that the incidence of this use has grown in every age demographic. The Internet is not just the playground of the young.

An Internet presence for a lawyer does not mean having a website, running sponsored links, or pushing content at people through social media tools.

Just like the town square or coffee shops were the forum for public discussion and the sharing of information in years gone by, the Internet is where people are interacting and learning from each other today.

This sort of online public interaction for lawyers comes in the form of engaging people through blogs and other social media.