‘A decade of digital dependency’ is the theme chosen by Ofcom, the communications regulator in the UK, to characterise its newly released 2018 Communications Market Report.
While the iPhone was launched in 2007, the report argues that it was in the following year that the smartphone really took off in the UK. It provides a thought provoking, if somewhat alarming picture of how this swiftly this device has infiltrated UK life and facilitated lives of compulsive connectedness.
Within the decade smartphone ownership has rocketed from 17% of the adult market to 78% and is now nearly universal amongst under 24-year olds. For many people it is the first thing that captures their attention on waking up: 40% check their phones within five minutes of waking up. They also check them last thing before they turn the lights off at night (37%). This habit is naturally even more pronounced amongst the under 35s, with 65% of them turning to their phones in the morning, and 60% doing so just before lights out. Throughout the waking day, people claim to check their smartphones every twelve minutes, making them the most important devices for accessing the internet.
Ten years ago, only a fifth of the population used their smartphones to access the internet; now nearly three quarters do so. On average, they spend 2 hours 28 minutes a day online on their smartphones, representing 62% of all adult online minutes. (Of course, 18-24s dedicate an additional three quarters of an hour to this activity on a daily basis.) It is not surprising that more than seven out of ten adults confess that they feel they could not live without their phones, saying they never turn them off.
2018 is a watershed year as this is the first time that the amount of time consumers spend making phone calls from their mobiles has fallen. Instead consumers are using services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. In fact, smartphone users now consider web browsing (92%) to be more important than making calls (75%)!
Convenience is the major benefit for consumers, with eighty-four % of adults agreeing with that online shopping banking have made life easier. They appreciate being able to carry out personal and work tasks while commuting e.g. sending and receiving text messages/instant messages, accessing social networking sites and general browsing.
But nearly ubiquitous internet is a double-edged blessing. While it may allow people to work flexibly, a stressed minority (15%) say they feel they are always at work. Half of all adults (50%) believe life would be boring without the internet. 34% and 29% of adults, respectively, admit to feeling either “cut off” or “lost” (29%) if they can’t get online; 17% go so far as to describe it as “stressful”. Very few consumers see the upside of a disconnected life, with only 10% finding it “liberating”.
While three-quarters of people value the internet as a way of keeping close to friends and family, although around half admit that connected devices can interrupt face-to-face interactions with friends and family. An interesting generational divide exists around the etiquette of smartphone usage in company. Most people (90%) agree that it is unacceptable to talk on the phone at mealtime, yet 17% confess that they had done it themselves. (This rises 26% among 18-34s).
Eighty three percent thought it was impolite to check notifications on a phone during meals but this drop to 46% among 18-34-year olds. There is widespread disapproval (76%) of people listening to music, watching videos or playing games loudly on public transport, yet 46% of people had talked on the phone while using public transport. 62% of over 55-year-old consider it unacceptable to be on their phones while watching TV with others; only 21% of 18-34-year olds do!
It is remarkable how speedily the smartphone has extended connectivity and revolutionised life. It is little wonder that it has fostered a new addiction.
Having spent some decades working in the media agencies, Britta Reid now relishes the opportunity to take an independent perspective on the South African media world, especially during this time of radical research transformation.