People aged 16 to 24 use different devices simultaneously to rack up 14 hours of activity a day
People aged 16 to 24 use different devices simultaneously to rack up 14 hours of activity a day

British people spend more time glued to screens than they do sleeping, according to the annual report on the nation’s communications habits by the industry watchdog.

Ofcom paints a picture of a country obsessed with consuming media in all formats but in particular on digital devices such as a smartphone and tablets. The regulator found that average television viewing has dropped below four hours a day for the first time since 2009.

Instead, led by the “millennium generation” that rarely uses a phone to make calls but instead updates social media status and checks for instant messages, the average adult spends more time using media or communications – at eight hours 41 minutes – than they do sleeping.

Ofcom found that people using several devices at the same time – for example, making calls while surfing the internet on a tablet – meant that total use of media and communications averaged more than 11 hours a day so far in 2014.

This was an increase of more than two hours since the regulator conducted equivalent research in 2010 and reflects a sharp increase in internet use on the move as mobile data networks have improved.

“Our research shows that a ‘millennium generation’ is shaping communications habits,” said Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive. “The convenience and simplicity of smartphones and tablets are helping us cram more activities into our lives.”

The 16-24 age group is the largest user of media and communications, the watchdog found, making time for more than 14 hours of activity by using different devices simultaneously.

The digital divide between age groups is becoming increasingly pronounced – almost 90 per cent of those aged 16-24 own a smartphone, compared with 14 per cent of those aged over 65.

Young adults are glued to their smartphones for three hours 36 minutes a day, nearly three times the 1 hour 22 minute average for all adults.

Younger generations also use their phones in different ways: children aged 12-15 spend just 3 per cent of their time making voice calls, turning almost entirely to instant messaging and social networking instead.

Ofcom found that digital literacy fell sharply after a certain age. In a study of nearly 3,000 adults and children, the regulator found that six year olds have the same knowledge of technology as 45 year olds.

Peak understanding of digital communications is reached at 14-15, it said, with few born at the turn of the millennium remembering life without access to fast mobile data networks.

However, in spite of the popularity of all things digital, Ofcom found book and record collections in the British home were only shrinking slowly.

About 84 per cent of adults still have a book collection, down from 93 per cent in 2005, while music CDs are collected by about 80 per cent of adults, down from 92 per cent in 2005.

The average book collection fell three books to 86 per person, while the average CD collection dropped six to 84. The number of books and CDs owned increases with age.

Technology has also changed how people work. Six in 10 workers engage in communications related to their job outside office hours. Most of this takes the form of emails. However, only 16 per cent think technology is making their work-life balance worse. Almost a third of those surveyed have made work related calls, sent emails or texts while on holiday.

But there is a trade-off, Ofcom said. More than half of respondents said they send and receive texts for personal reasons at work.

More than four in 10 households own a tablet – up from a quarter a year ago – with many using it as their main computing device. Older people have increasingly embraced the simplicity of the tablet as a computer – more than a quarter of over 55s own one.

On average, viewers watched three hours 52 minutes of television a day in 2013, down nine minutes from 2012 and the first time since 2009 that viewing has fallen below four hours a day.

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