Does technology bring us together or is it driving new kinds of inequality? Are we entering a Utopian era of free-flowing information, or limiting our horizons with streamlined media? What happens when people stop questioning the content and breadth of their information sources?
These are some of the deeper questions touched upon during Ofcom Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes event, where our Associate Director Jenny Holland introduced findings from our recent report on smartphone-only internet access.
The study was commissioned by Ofcom to explore the needs, attitudes and experiences of those who only access the internet via their smartphone – either through choice or due to (often difficult) circumstances. The full report can be read here.
Ofcom’s latest statistics suggest that ‘smartphone by default’ internet users now comprise 6% of the population, and the trend is growing apace. Hitherto, the implications have been relatively hidden, but our research clearly demonstrates why policy-makers and developers alike need to take account of the experiences of those unable or unwilling to access the internet through a range of devices.
The trend is particularly concerning in relation to vulnerable people – e.g. homeless or elderly people, whose struggle to access online services may be compounded by the limitations in function or content associated with smartphone-only access. This is especially relevant in light of the government’s ‘digital by default’ strategy, whereby key services are increasingly moving online – raising questions as to whether a reliance on smartphones causes new axes of ‘digital exclusion’, and what impact these will have.
In bringing to life our findings for a broad range of Ofcom’s stakeholders – from media providers and academic researchers to the digital exclusion specialists at the Tinder Foundation – it was clear that the issue is fast gaining momentum among key audiences, and we are delighted to have been able to bring new evidence and depth to Ofcom’s understanding of the phenomenon.