Granny tops technology poll

Pensioners spend more time using and chatting about computers than any other age group, according to a survey into UK computer habits published today by Microsoft.

The over 60s spend an average of 10 hours at their PC. More than a third spend this time playing games and nearly a quarter admitted that computers were their main subject of conversation. The study surveyed 500 households in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow and concentrated on families who had owned a PC for a year or more. It aimed to assess the habits of PC-owning families and find out what role the computer played in family life.

The average PC user spends seven hours a week in front of the screen, but the monitor still has a long way to go to compete with the TV screen -- the average family spends over 14 hours a week watching the box. For those who manage to drag themselves away from the soap operas (the survey found that between 6pm and 8pm was the most popular time for using the computer) there is a breakdown of what the individual family members are likely to be doing.

Whilst Dad is most likely to be found surfing the Net, Mum may well be joining the kids in playing games. Whilst a third of dads admitted that they used the PC mainly for the Internet, gaming remains one of the most popular activities for the rest of the household, with a surprising 33% of mums claiming to have caught the gaming bug.

Computer games are second only to word-processing as a reason for buying a PC and over half of people with a PC regularly play games. The idea of the PC as an educational tool was not entirely borne out by the survey; homework accounted for only 11% of the total usage. Less than a third of boys used the computer for homework. Girls proved more conscientious with 42% using the PC for schoolwork. Both boys and girls were keen to use the computer more than they were allowed, with over a third of under-10s sneaking out of bed to use it after 10pm.

In terms of how computer literate we are as a nation, the survey had a mixed message. Although three in five people were confident that they could do everything they wanted to on their PC, this leaves 40% who were not happy with their knowledge and skills. Of these, 12% wanted to find out more about the Net. The 1998 British Technology study, conducted by MORI, found that 41% of parents were concerned that their children were more IT savvy than them. Richard Teversham, group consumer product manager at Microsoft agrees that there is a need to improve skills. "There is a huge public appetite to know more about PCs. Although Brits are very computer confident, nearly two in five PC owners would welcome the chance to expand their PC skills." To this end, Microsoft hopes to set up country-wide multimedia workshops, although no details of this are yet available.

One in four households in the UK own a computer according to the survey and Microsoft predicts this will increase to one in three by 2001. Microsoft intends to follow the original 500 households over the next two years to see if PC usage changes. "We're confident that this is going to unearth some fascinating findings," said Teversham.

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