People in the UK have become so obsessed with their smartphones that they cannot go more than 12 minutes without glancing down to check their screen.
That’s one of the findings of Ofcom’s latest report into our media habits, which found that over the last ten years, the UK has become increasingly digital dependent, with the majority of Brits needing a constant connection to the internet.
The regulator’s latest Communications Market Report focuses on how technology has revolutionised our lives since 2008, which was the year that the smartphone really took hold in the country. It revealed that, in addition to checking our devices an average of every 12 minutes, two out of five adults (40 per cent) look at their phone within five minutes of waking up in the morning – with this rising to 65 per cent of those aged under 35.
Ian Macrae, Ofcom’s director of market intelligence, said: “Over the last decade, people’s lives have been transformed by the rise of the smartphone, together with better access to the internet and new services.”
In 2008 – shortly after the launch of the iPhone and the first Android devices – 17 per cent of British adults owned a smartphone. Today, this figure stands at 78 per cent, and 95 per cent among 16 to 24-year-olds.
Almost three-quarters of adults (72 per cent) say their smartphone is the most important device they use for accessing the internet, with 71 per cent stating they never turn off their phone, and 78 per cent admitting they could not live without it.
Therefore, it may be no surprise that the average Brit spends two hours 28 minutes a day online using their smartphone. This rises to three hours 14 minutes among 18 to 24-year-olds. Overall, one in five adults (19 per cent) said they spend more than 40 hours a week online, up from just five per cent ten years ago.
However, despite this obsession with technology, this need for constant connectivity is not without its downsides.
Mr Macrae said: “Whether it’s working flexibly, keeping up with current affairs or shopping online, we can do more on the move than ever before. But while people appreciate their smartphone as their constant companion, some are finding themselves feeling overloaded when online, or frustrated when they’re not.”
Around a third of people say they feel either cut off (34 per cent) or lost (29 per cent) if they can’t get online, and 17 per cent say they find not being able to access the internet stressful. Half of all UK adults (50 per cent) say their life would be boring if they could not access the internet.
Some 15 per cent of Brits said that being constantly connected makes them feel they are always at work, while more than half (54 per cent) admit that connected devices interrupt face-to-face conversations with friends and family. More than two in five (43%) also say they spend too much time online.
There are also differences in opinion about what constitutes acceptable use of smartphones when around others, with a clear generational gap between older and younger people.
Ofcom found, for example, that while 53 per cent of adults admit to using their smartphone while watching TV, six out of ten people over the age of 55 (62 per cent) view this as unacceptable. However, among those aged between 18 and 34, this figure falls to just 21 per cent.
Meanwhile, three-quarters of people (76 per cent) find it annoying when someone is using their handset to listen to music, watch videos or play games loudly on public transport, while 81 per cent object to people using their phone during meal times.
The study also found that although the use of smartphones for online browsing is rising, they seem to be used much less frequently to actually make phone calls.
Ofcom revealed that the amount of time spent making voice calls from our mobiles has fallen for the first time, with Brits increasingly turning to internet-based services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to stay in touch.
Only 75 per cent of smartphone users stated that making phone calls was an important use for their mobiles, compared with 92 per cent who consider web browsing to be important.