More Topics

Tech-savvy teenagers are shaping the way we communicate, says Ofcom

The generation of teens that has grown up since the millennium is using its technology skills to shape the way that all of us, young and old, communicate, according to Ofcom.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

If you want help with your computer, ask the nearest teenager — preferably one between 14 and 15 years old. That's because, according to the latest Ofcom research on technology trends, the teenage generation is at its "technology-savvy peak". From there on, it's apparently all downhill as we slowly lose interest.

The new generation is unlikely to have any memory of glacial dial-up internet access, having grown up with relatively high-speed broadband connections.

Ofcom's Communications Market Report measures the population's confidence and knowledge of communications technology. It does this to calculate an individual's 'Digital Quotient' (DQ) score with the average UK adult scoring 100.

So a six- to seven-year-old will likely have a DQ of 98, while a 14- to 15-year-old will peak at a DQ of around 113. After that, DQ falls to 96 in 45- to 49-year olds and 80 in the 75+ age group.

Voice versus text

The Ofcom research underlines how our communications habits change as we get older. For example, children aged 12 to 15 are likely to spend just three percent of their time on voice calls, while the vast majority of their time (94 percent) is spent on text-based communications — IM or social networking.

Although adults are using digital text-based communications, they operate in a different way to the younger generation. Adults tend to like email (33 percent use it daily), in marked contrast to the two percent of 12- to 15-year-olds who do.

Emailing or texting is also more popular than sleeping, apparently. "The average UK adult now spends more time using media or communications (eight hours, 41 minutes) than they do sleeping (eight hours, 21 minutes — the UK average)," says the Ofcom report.

But if eight hours a day sounds reasonable, we are actually squeezing more into our day by multitasking on different devices. The total use of media and communications averaged over 11 hours per day in 2014, according to Ofcom — an increase of more than two hours since it last conducted similar research in 2010.

Not surprisingly, the Ofcom research also records the passing of the torch from the desktop computer, which is being replaced by the tablet and the smartphone — albeit at a slower pace than some would have expected. More than four in ten households (44 percent) now have a tablet, up from a quarter (24 percent) a year ago.

The older generation is endeavouring to catch up here, with more than a quarter (28 percent) of the over-55s now owning a tablet.

More wired, more mobile

At the same time as the Ofcom report came out, the latest bulletin from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed a similar picture of a wired-up generation.

More than three-quarters of adults (76 percent) accessed the internet daily in 2014, the bulletin said, which is more than double the 35 percent recorded in 2006. Overall, 84 percent of households have some kind of internet connection, a figure the ONS compared with the nine percent of online households in 1998 — 16 years ago.

More than half of all adults (55 percent) used the internet to read or download the news, newspapers or magazines in 2014, compared with 20 percent of adults in 2007. Mobile devices are increasingly prevalent, as you might expect — 68 percent of adults accessed the internet using a mobile device, a figure that rose to 96 percent for those aged 16 to 24.

Further reading

Editorial standards