Techie teens are shaping how we communicate

07 August 2014

A 'millennium generation' of 14 and 15 year olds are the most technology-savvy in the UK, according to new Ofcom research, which shows that after our teens our digital confidence begins a long decline.

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% 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.

Average 'Digital Quotient' score by age


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% of their communications time is spent making voice calls, while the vast majority (94%) is text based - such as instant messaging and social networking.

By contrast, older generations still find it good to talk: 20% 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% of their time spent communicating) compared to just 2% among 12-15s.

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%) now have a tablet - up from a quarter (24%) a year ago.

Their ease of use and portability appeal to people across generations. More than a quarter (28%) 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%), compared to half (51%) 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% of UK adults had a physical book collection in April 2014, down from 93% in 2005. Books are more popular than DVD/Blu-ray discs (80% own a collection, from 81% in 2005) and music CDs (79% this year, down from 92% 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% 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 10 (88%) 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%) of workers think technology is improving their work-life balance. Just under half (49%) say it is not making much difference either way and 16% think technology is making their work-life balance worse.

Six in 10 (60%) 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%) of all workers emailing from time to time, and a fifth (22%) doing so on a regular basis.

Around four in 10 workers are also taking part in work-related telephone calls (41%) and text messages (37%) occasionally outside their working hours.

The largest proportion of work-related communications takes place in the evening at home. Of those people, one in 10 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%) of people have made work related calls, sent emails or texts while on holiday, and of those, one in 10 has worked on the beach, or by the pool.

But there is a trade-off. Six in 10 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% make or receive telephone calls for non-work related reasons. Just over a quarter (27%) catch-up on the sports results at work, while one in five people are shopping online in the office.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: "Our research shows that a 'millennium generation' is shaping communications habits for the future. 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."

James Thickett, Ofcom Director of Research, said: "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."

Ofcom's Communications Market 2014 can be found here.

Other key market developments

  • Total UK communications revenues generated by telecoms, TV, radio and post were unchanged at £60.2bn in 2013.
  • Average monthly household spend on communication services fell in real terms from £126.73 in 2008 to £117.08 in 2013.
  • This represents a monthly saving of £9.65, or £115.80 per year. The largest decrease in spending over the five year period was on mobile services.


  • On average viewers watched 3 hours 52 minutes of TV per day in 2013, down by 9 minutes from 2012.
  • The fall in viewing was observed among all age groups and was the first time since 2009 that TV viewing has fallen below 4 hours per day.
  • The UK TV industry generated £12.9bn in revenue in 2013, up by £426m (3.4%) on 2012.
  • Spend on content by all UK TV channels in 2013 increased by 3.7% to £5.8bn. The increase was driven by higher spending by sports channels.


  • Some 90.4% of the adult population tuned into radio in 2013. Over the past six years the reach of radio remained largely unchanged.
  • Average time spent listening to radio per listener fell in 2013. The decline among those aged 15-24 and 24-34 has been the most rapid, but there are now signs of a reduction in listening hours among those aged between 55 and 64.
  • Digital platforms' share of total listening has doubled since 2008. The share of listening via a digital platform has increased from 17.8% (Q1 2008) to 36.6% (Q1 2014).
  • Total UK radio industry revenue was £1.18bn, down by 2.1% from 2012. Within this total, BBC expenditure fell by £4m while commercial radio revenue fell by £21m.


  • The number of superfast broadband connections increased by 58% to 6.1 million in the year to Q1 2014. The proportion of all fixed broadband connections that were classed as being superfast increased by 9.2 percentage points to 26.7% over the same period.
  • 4G services are now available on all four UK national mobile networks, and by March 2014 there were more than 6 million 4G mobile subscriptions.
  • Data provided to Ofcom by the mobile providers show that 73% of UK premises were in areas with 4G coverage from at least one provider in June 2014.
  • There were 55 million UK mobile data connections at the end of 2013. The total number of mobile data connections increased by 6.5 million (13.3%) during the year.
  • Total operator-reported telecoms revenues fell by £0.6m to £38.6bn in 2013.


  • The number of adults with household internet access grew to 82%, a rise of two percentage points from Q1 2013. Fixed broadband increased by one percentage point to 73% in Q1 2014, while mobile broadband rose three percentage points to 8% of UK households.
  • Music and video streaming are more popular among younger people. In particular, music streaming is more popular than MP3s and music CDs among people aged 16 to 24.


  • Addressed mail volumes fell by 5.0% between 2012 and 2013 from 15.5 billion items to 14.8 billion items. There are now 5.8 billion fewer items in the market than in 2008.
  • For the first time since its introduction in 2004, the volume of access mail declined in 2013, falling by 0.6%. Access mail is mail that companies other than Royal Mail collect, sort and transport from bulk senders before handing it to Royal Mail for final delivery. In 2013, 49% of mail volume came from access agreements.
  • Mail revenue increased for the third consecutive year, growing by 2.9% in 2013 to reach £7.5bn.



  1. Ofcom's Communications Market Report provides an overview of communications services across the UK and monitors key trends in the availability and take-up of digital services across the nation. Ofcom also publishes reports for North Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
  2. The consumer confidence study, carried out by Ipsos MORI for Ofcom, involved 1,982 adults aged 15+ and 800 children aged 6-15. The adults were interviewed about their awareness and knowledge of new products and services and their attitudes about technology, in the first survey. The children were interviewed online, representative of children aged 6-15 across the UK.
  3. In addition to survey data, this report refers to data from a range of other sources, including data provided to Ofcom by stakeholders.
  4. The total volume of media and communications activities undertaken by an individual each day equate to 11 hours 7 minutes. But as some media activities are conducted simultaneously, this is squeezed into 8 hours 41 minutes per day.
  5. Under the Communications Act 2003 (the Act), Ofcom is required to research markets constantly and to remain at the forefront of technological understanding. Ofcom is also required under section 358 of the Act to publish an annual factual and statistical report.

Communications Market Report 2014: Infographics