This website uses cookies primarily for visitor analytics. Certain pages will ask you to fill in contact details to receive additional information. On these pages you have the option of having the site log your details for future visits. Indicating you want the site to remember your details will place a cookie on your device. To view our full cookie policy, please click here. You can also view it at any time by going to our Contact Us page.

Techie teens are shaping how we communicate

07 August 2014

A 'millennium generation' of 14 and 15 year olds is the most technology-savvy in the UK, according to new Ofcom research.

Teens born at the turn of the millennium are unlikely to have known 'dial-up' internet and are the first generation to benefit from broadband and digital communications while growing up.

The research - part of Ofcom's eleventh Communications Market Report - measures confidence and knowledge of communications technology to calculate an individual's 'Digital Quotient' score, or 'DQ', with the average UK adult scoring 100.

The study, among nearly 2,000 adults and 800 children, finds that six year olds claim to have the same understanding of communications technology as 45 year olds. Also, more than 60 percent of people aged 55 and over have a below average 'DQ' score.

It shows that we hit our peak confidence and understanding of digital communications and technology when we are in our mid-teens; this drops gradually up to our late 50s and then falls rapidly from 60 and beyond. The study helps support Ofcom's duty to research the markets it regulates and better understand people's technology literacy.

As a result of growing up in the digital age, 12-15 year olds are developing fundamentally different communication habits than older generations, even compared to the advanced 16-24 age group.

Children aged 12-15 are turning away from talking on the telephone. Just 3 percent of their communications time is spent making voice calls, while the vast majority (94 percent) is text based - such as instant messaging and social networking.

By contrast, older generations still find it good to talk: 20 percent of UK adults' communications time is spent on the phone on average. While adults also embrace digital text-based communications, the traditional email is most popular (used for 33 percent of their time spent communicating) compared to just 2 percent among 12-15s.

You can use Ofcom's 'Digital Quotient' taster test here to find out your score and get Ofcom advice on how to improve your understanding of communications services.

We're communicating more than sleeping
It's not only younger teens that are making the most of digital communications technology. Ofcom's research shows that the communications habits of adults of all ages are shifting as they embrace newer services and take advantage of portable connected devices.

The average UK adult now spends more time using media or communications (8 hours 41 minutes) than they do sleeping (8 hours 21 minutes - the UK average).

But because we're squeezing more into our day by multi-tasking on different devices, total use of media and communications averaged over 11 hours every day in 2014. This is an increase of more than 2 hours since Ofcom last conducted similar research in 2010.

Since then, we're even better connected through superfast broadband and 4G mobile, and communicating on the move.

Among the adult population, it's the 16-24s who spend the most time on media and communications. They're cramming over 14 hours of media and communications activity into 9 hours 8 minutes each day by multi-tasking, using different media and devices at the same time.

Tied to our tablets and smartphones
Where computer use was traditionally dependent on desktop computers, tablet and smartphone devices are starting to dominate how we work and play. Over four in 10 households (44 percent) now have a tablet - up from a quarter (24 percent) a year ago.

Their ease of use and portability appeal to people across generations. More than a quarter (28 percent) of those over 55 now own a tablet and many use it as their main computing device.

These young adults are glued to their smartphones for 3 hours 36 minutes each day, nearly three times the 1 hour 22 minute average across all adults.

Smartphone take-up has also continued to increase rapidly over the past year, up to six in 10 adults (61 percent), compared to half (51 percent) a year earlier. The growth in smartphone use in particular has contributed to people spending an extra 2 hours per day on media and communications since 2010.

We're holding on to our books, CDs and DVDs
Despite the growth in digital media and devices, people are holding on to popular forms of physical media such as books, CDs and DVDs.

The average sized DVD and Blu-ray disc collection increased from 45 to 68 discs per person between 2005 and 2014.

Books remain the most popular physical media - 84 percent of UK adults had a physical book collection in April 2014, down from 93 percent in 2005. Books are more popular than DVD/Blu-ray discs (80 percent own a collection, from 81 percent in 2005) and music CDs (79 percent this year, down from 92 percent in 2005).

The average size of a book collection fell by three books to 86 per person, while the average size of a music CD collection declined by six CDs to 84.

Ownership of music CDs varies greatly between age groups. Some 60 percent of people aged 16-24 were significantly less likely to own music CDs than all other age groups. However, among 45 to 54 year olds, almost nine in ten (88 percent) were likely to own a music CD collection.

The number of books owned increases with age. The largest printed book collections were held by those aged 55 to 64 years old, with an average of 118 books. The smallest average collection size was that of 16-24 year olds with an average of 50 books each.

Technology and work-life balance
While technology is seen by many as a distraction in our daily lives, a quarter (24 percent) of workers think technology is improving their work-life balance. Just under half (49 percent) say it is not making much difference either way and 16 percent think technology is making their work-life balance worse.

Six in ten (60 percent) workers do some form of work-related communications activity outside of working hours. Emailing is the most common work-based communication activity out of hours, with nearly half (46 percent) of all workers emailing from time to time, and a fifth (22 percent) doing so on a regular basis.

Around four in ten workers are also taking part in work-related telephone calls (41 percent) and text messages (37 percent) occasionally outside their working hours.

The largest proportion of work-related communications takes place in the evening at home. Of those people, one in ten read or send work emails or texts in bed, on waking in the morning or last thing at night.

Communications technology is also shaping our holiday time. The research shows almost a third (32 percent) of people have made work related calls, sent emails or texts while on holiday, and of those, one in ten has worked on the beach, or by the pool.

But there is a trade-off. Six in ten workers say that while they're at work they regularly or occasionally send and receive texts for personal reasons; half of workers use email; while 46 percent make or receive telephone calls for non-work related reasons. Just over a quarter (27 percent) catch-up on the sports results at work, while one in five people are shopping online in the office.

"Our research shows that a 'millennium generation' is shaping communications habits for the future," says Ofcom chief executive, Ed Richards. "While children and teenagers are the most digitally-savvy, all age groups are benefitting from new technology.

"We're now spending more time using media or communications than sleeping. The convenience and simplicity of smartphones and tablets are helping us cram more activities into our daily lives."

Ofcom director of research, James Thickett says that while gadgets can prove a distraction, technology is actually improving work-life balance for some.

"Six in ten of us do some form of working outside of normal hours, but the trade-off is that we're making personal calls and doing our life-admin at work," he adds.

Commenting on this latest report from Ofcom, Ernest Doku, a telecoms expert at, says mums and dads of 'techy tots' won't be surprised to hear the findings of this report.

"Toddlers are tablet trained before they're potty trained these days," he says. “According to our research, nearly four million British children first master touchscreen tablets and smartphones aged three years or younger while more than one in ten (11 percent) are under the age of two - barely a twinkle in daddy's iPad.

“There are benefits to the patter of tiny geeks. Not only are smartphones invaluable for keeping tabs on your brood, there's a growing array of educational apps and multimedia to help with everything from bedtime stories to homework. 

“If you do decide to give in to your child's requests for their own mobile, ask the network to place a cap on their bill. This takes about five minutes and is a very sensible precaution, especially if your child has a data-hungry smartphone. Make sure that when they're at home, they are browsing the web using Wi-Fi instead of connecting to the internet via 3G or 4G.”

Ofcom's Communications Market 2014 can be found here.

Contact Details and Archive...

Print this page | E-mail this page