Connectivity Creep, Smart Snubbing and Digital Detoxes – The UK Online in 2016, According to Ofcom

From SMS to IM - modern life, mobile-style
From SMS to IM – modern life, mobile-style

Ofcom’s latest communications report reveals the extent to which mobile and digital are dominating the daily lives of UK consumers, with both good and bad consequences.

While consumers say the internet makes their lives easier and broadens their horizons, 34 per cent of UK internet users (15m people) say they have undertaken a ‘digital detox’ in a bid to strike a healthier balance between technology and life beyond the screen.

Ofcom surveyed 2,025 adults and 500 teenagers for its Communications Market Report 2016. It found that adult users in the UK currently spend an average of one day per week (25 hours) online. 42 per cent of respondents said they go online or check apps more than 10 times a day, while around one in 10 (11 per cent) access the internet more than 50 times daily. 59 per cent consider themselves ‘hooked’ on their connected device, while 34 per cent admit they find it difficult to disconnect.

Connectivity creep
With figures like these, it’s perhaps no surprise that almost half of respondents (49 per cent) said they were guilty of ‘connectivity creep’ – spending longer online than they originally intended each day, while 37 per cent said the same of social media. As a result, almost half (48 per cent) neglected housework; 47 per cent said they had missed out on sleep or were tired the next day; while 31 per cent had missed out on spending time with friends and family.

‘Tech tardiness’ was another reported side effect. 22 per cent of respondents admitted being late for a meeting with friends or family, and 13 per cent late for work, as a result of being online too long. 26 per cent of teens said they had been late for school, while 60 per cent said they’d neglected school work.
Perhaps as a consequence, many parents are limiting their children’s time online. 61 per cent of teenagers who use a connected device such as a smartphone or tablet reported being digitally ‘grounded’, having had their device taken away, or its usage restricted.

People also reported a lack of ‘netiquette’ from strangers who can’t seem to put their devices down. A quarter of UK adults (25 per cent) complained that someone bumped into them in the street at least once a week because they were too busy looking at their phone. And this before Pokémon Go was no more than the rumblings of an idea in an app developer’s head…

Our attachment to our connected devices is also getting in the way of face-to-face communication, according to the research. 40 per cent of UK adults felt they’d been ‘smart-snubbed’ (ignored by a friend or relative too engrossed in their smartphone or tablet) at least once a week; while 17 per cent said this happened on a daily basis.

The research also suggests that some people are choosing to text or instant message friends and family instead of talking face-to-face, even though they’re sitting in the same room. Just over a quarter of UK adults (26 per cent) said this occurred at home, while a third of teenagers (32 per cent) said they have done so at school.

So perhaps the high number of respondents saying they had engaged in a digital detox should also come as no surprise. Of these, 25 per cent said they spent up to a day internet-free; 20 per cent took up to a week off; and five per cent went web-free for up to a whole month. The most common reasons for doing so were to spend more time doing other things (cited by 44 per cent) and more time talking to friends and family (38 per cent).

Many people found their time offline to be a positive experience: 33 per cent said they felt more productive, 27 per cent found it liberating, while 25 per cent said they enjoyed life more. However, 16 per cent experienced a ‘fear of missing out’, 15 per cent felt lost and 14 per cent ‘cut-off’.

Millions of holiday-goers are also purposely abandoning technology. 30 per cent of UK adults have done some form of digital detox holiday. Sixteen per cent of UK adults have purposely visited a destination with no internet access, while nine per cent have intentionally travelled to a place with neither internet nor mobile phone coverage.

Device of choice
The study also cements the smartphone as the device of choice for going online. Smartphones are considered the most important device for internet access, by 36 per cent of internet users, followed by laptops, by 29 per cent of internet users.

Smartphone ownership in the UK has also increased in the past 12 months, from 66 per cent to 71 per cent. Tablet ownership is up from 54 per cent to 59 per cent; smart TVs up from 20 per cent to 27 per cent; and smart watches up from three per cent to five per cent. 4G subscriptions have also seen a sharp increase, accounting for 46 per cent (or 39.5m connections) at the end of 2015, up from 28 per cent (23.6m) in 2014, while 97.8 per cent of UK homes and businesses had 4G coverage from at least one provider.

The study also finds that age is no barrier to online activity. The proportion of 55-64 year olds who had internet access increased from 82 per cent in 2015 to 87 per cent in 2016, while 51 per cent indicated they used social media and 42 per cent on-demand services in an average week.

Smartphone ownership among those aged 55 and over also increased from 32 per cent to 42 per cent year-on-year, while 20 per cent now subscribe to a 4G service – up from 11 per cent in 2015. Furthermore, the most significant annual growth in mobile data use was among the older age groups – from 39 per cent in 2015 to 50 per cent in 2016 among 55-64 year olds, and from 16 per cent to 21 per cent among people aged 65 and over.

Instant messaging growth
Finally, the report highlights the rapid growth of instant messaging in the UK. The proportion of adults using services such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp at least once a week rose from 28 per cent in 2014, to 43 per cent in 2016, the biggest increase across all communications and media activities. Instant messaging is also considered the single most important means of communication among 16-24 year olds. Photo or video messaging services, such as Snapchat, are now used by 21 per cent of UK adults on a weekly basis, up from 14 per cent in 2014.

Emailing and texting remain the most common methods of text communication, at 70 per cent and 63 per cent respectively in a given week, but both have decreased since 2014. In fact, the total number of SMS and MMS (multimedia) messages sent each year dropped from 110bn in 2014, to 101bn in 2015. Volumes have fallen by around a third since peaking in 2012, largely as a result of the growing use of instant messaging.