The scale of the UKâs obsession with the internet has been laid bare by a new study showing that the ever increasing amount of time we spend online is leading to lost sleep, neglected housework and less time spent with friends and family.
For the first time, the annual Communications Market Report from media and telecoms regulator Ofcom has delved into how people cope with spending so much time connected, finding that more than a third of UK internet users are deciding to take âdigital detoxâ breaks from the web.
On average, UK adults now say they spend 25 hours a week online, up from nine hours in 2005. Three quarters of UK internet users say it is important to their daily lives and 59% say they are âhookedâ on the device they use to connect.
The report, which surveyed 2,050 adults and 500 teenagers, found that more than a third find it difficult to disconnect and almost half said they felt lost when they could not access the internet, rising to 59% of 16- to 24-year-olds.
Many of those surveyed were concerned about their obsession with the web. Four in 10 think they spend too much time online, and 41% said they spent more time online than they intended.
Almost half (48%) said that as a result of spending too much time online they neglected housework and a similar proportion (47%) also blamed web browsing for missing sleep or being tired the following day. Nearly one in three said they missed out on time with family or friends and 13% said they were late for work as a result of their internet use.
The survey also found that constantly being connected was having a negative impact on our manners. A quarter of those surveyed said someone bumped into them at least once a week because they were looking at their smartphones. More than a quarter said they had texted or used a messaging service to communicate with someone in the same room at home while 40% felt they had been âsmart snubbedâ â ignored by a friend or relative too engrossed in their smartphone or tablet.
Among teenagers, 60% admitted neglecting school work and a quarter being late for school because they were glued to connected devices.
Jane Rumble, Ofcom director of market intelligence, said the UKâs âlove affairâ with the web showed no sign of waning, but people were trying to find a better balance.
She said: âThe relationship is not simple. There are many benefits of spending time online, but also people are beginning to reflect on just how much this takes up of their daily lives and taking steps to redress the balance.â
The survey found that more than a third of people had taken a digital detox at some point in the last year â suggesting about 15 million people in the UK have tried going offline â and 11% had done so in the last week.
Ways of disconnecting vary. Three in 10 said they had gone on some form of digital detox holiday, with 16% saying they had chosen a location with no internet access and 13% that they had deliberately left their phone at home. Almost one in 10 went further and visited a place without even a telephone line.
Those aged 16 to 24 were most likely to have taken a digital detox at some point, with more than half having done so in the last year. Teenagers, on the other hand, were more likely to have been forced to reduce their time online, with 61% saying they had been âdigitally groundedâ, meaning a device had been taken away or its use restricted by parents or carers.
Rumble said that those who had grown up with the internet, rather than had to adapt to it, were less likely to see the time spent online as a problem.
âTeenagers being a digital generation â they have grown up with the internet, they have not known a life without it, and so for them itâs not necessarily seen to be too much,â she said. âWith teenagers itâs more likely to be their parents of carers that are thinking they have not got that balance right.â
Those who took a digital detox generally said it was a positive experience, with a third saying they were more productive and a quarter saying they enjoyed life more. However, some found the experience disturbing, with 16% saying the felt like they were missing out and 8% saying they felt anxious.
However, of those who had never deliberately disconnected, 34% said they definitely would not like to give it a go.
While the overall picture suggested many people were realising they needed time away from the internet, the majority were enthusiastic about the benefits of the web, such as keeping up to date with current affairs, being inspired to try new things such as travel or restaurants and keeping in touch with friends or family.
Younger age groups in particular, while being more aware that they were spending too much time online, were more convinced of its benefits.
On demand viewing trends
Almost a quarter of UK viewers now regularly watch Netflix, as enthusiasm for paid subscription TV streaming services grows.
According to Ofcom, 23% of UK adults said they watched Netflix at least once a week in 2015, up from 13% the previous year. Weekly viewing of rival Amazonâs TV streaming service has also increased, from 5% to 7%, as has Skyâs on demand service, Now TV, from 1% to 4%.
Breaking Bad was the most popular on demand streaming show in the last quarter of 2015, followed by Orange is the New Black, both of which are on Netflix. Biker gang drama Sons of Anarchy on Amazon was third.
Both Netflix and Amazon are spending huge amounts of money on original content, with Netflix alone planning to invest $6bn (Â£4.5bn) this year. However, while original content is becoming a more important reason for people to sign up, the biggest draw remains back catalogues of films and TV series.
Despite the growing popularity of on demand, live TV remains far more popular, accounting for almost two-thirds of the total viewing time watching across all age groups.
However, there is evidence its dominance might not last. Since 2014, the proportion of total screen time 16- to 24-year-olds spend on traditional live channels has dropped from 50% to just 36%, only slightly more than the 33% spent watching paid or free on demand services â ranging from iPlayer to Netflix.