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Britons ‘reach digital peak at 14’

Britons are reaching their peak understanding of digital technology at the age of 14 to 15, according to a new report.

The study, by communications regulator Ofcom, found that six-year-olds have the same understanding of using gadgets such as mobile phones and tablets as 45-year-olds.

The research also shows that the average UK adult now spends more time using media or communications (eight hours, 41 minutes a day) than they do sleeping (eight hours, 21 minutes).

The total amount of time spent using technology is actually higher than this (11 hours, seven minutes), when multi-tasking is taken into account by, for example, watching TV at the same time as texting.

Other key findings from Ofcom’s annual report includes evidence that teenagers are turning away from talking on the phone, with just 3% of their communications time spent making voice calls.

The vast majority of their time spent communicating (94%) is text-based, such as instant messaging or using social networking sites.

In contrast, a fifth (20%) of adults’ communications time is spent making calls on the phone.

Jane Rumble, head of media research and intelligence at Ofcom, said the data led to the “question whether the millennium generation is losing its voice” or whether children will make voice calls more as they get older.

The findings also showed an increase in the use of tablet computers over desktops, with more than four in 10 households (44%) now owning a tablet compared to a quarter (24%) the previous year.

The rise of tablet computers is also having an effect on the older generation, with 22% of over 65s now owning one compared to just 2% two years ago.

While the “millennium generation” of children who are now aged 14 to 15 show the most understanding of digital technology, this drops gradually until people reach their late 50s before falling rapidly from the age of 60 onwards.

Along with tablets, the number of people using smartphones has also increased dramatically over the past year, with six in 10 adults (61%) owning one compared to half (51%) a year earlier.

Almost nine in 10 (88%) of 16 to 24-year-olds have a smartphone, spending an average of three hours and 36 minutes a day glued to them. In contrast, just 14% of those aged 65-plus possess one.

The research showed that the time spent watching TV has fallen, with the average amount in 2013 being three hours and 52 minutes compared to fours hours and one minute the year before.

This was the same across all age groups and the first time since 2009 that TV viewing has fallen below four hours a day.

Experts said this could simply be down to the fact that more people tuned in to watch the 2012 Olympics the previous year along with Euro 2012, and also because the weather was better last summer compared to the one before and so people spent more time outdoors.

The amount households spend on communications is declining (by an average of £9.65 a month), but Britons are now getting more for their money than previously, such as by receiving faster broadband, Ofcom said.

The number of people with internet access in their homes has grown by two percentage points from the previous year to 82%.

Ofcom said that the number of superfast broadband connections has increased by 58% in a year to 6.1 million, while by last March there were more than 6 million 4G mobile subscriptions, just two years after it was first introduced.

Amongst more traditional forms of media, adults own more books than CDs and DVDs, although the average book collection fell from 89 to 86 per person.

The research showed that music streaming is more popular than CDs with young people.

While a quarter (24%) of workers believe technology is improving their work-life balance, 16% disagree and just under half (49%) reported no difference.

But the study found that while almost a third (32%) send work-related messages or take calls on holiday, 60% say they send personal texts during work time.

One in 10 said they read or send work emails or texts while in bed.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: “Our research shows that a ‘millennium generation’ is shaping communications habits for the future.

“While children and teenagers are the most digitally-savvy, all age groups are benefitting from new technology.

“The convenience and simplicity of smartphones and tablets are helping us cram more activities into our daily lives.”

:: Ofcom’s Communications Market Report featured a study carried out by Ipsos Mori, which questioned 1,982 adults aged 15-plus along with 800 children aged six to 15.

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