Switched on UK: O2 report puts families at the heart of the digital revolution

New Digital Families Report from O2 reveals:

  • Technology is no longer a discretionary household expenditure – 11 million families are prioritising access to the internet over food and utility bills in the recession
  • Families are taking advantage of the internet to communicate – 3.4 million parents now use social networks to say in touch with immediate family
  • The increased availability of mobiles, email and social networks are bringing families closer together – technology frees up the day for families to spend quality time together
  • Four types of UK families identified – each with distinct attitudes around the role of technology within the family

With increasing pressure on household purse strings, a nationwide Digital Families report published by O2 has found that UK families are prioritising access to the internet over food and utility bills. Questioned on the items they are reluctant to cut back on in the credit crunch, families chose the internet (67%) over school uniforms (59%), family holidays (30%) and the weekly food shop (24%). These findings provide a revealing insight into the role digital technology plays in the composition of modern family life.

Families and technology

The O2 Digital Families report is the most comprehensive study into the attitudes families have towards the technology they use everyday, and involved in-depth interviews with 500 families across the country. It marks the launch of the O2 Joggler, a first-of-its-kind device to help improve the way families manage their busy lives.

The research revealed that despite the recession, families are embracing technology like never before. 40% of parents claim that technology purchases and subscriptions account for 10% of the household budget, an estimated £3,000 per year. Similarly, UK households now on average have 2.4 TVs, 1.6 computers, 2.4 games consoles, 3 mobile phones and 2.2 MP3 players. With digital technology now present in every room in the house, it is not surprising that only one in ten (9%) parents still admit they find it intimidating.

According to the report, families will still look to buy technology in a tough economic climate, but will be more price-conscious. 57% of families said they will still look to buy the latest gadgets if they are affordable.

Based on their attitudes to and uses of technology as a family, the O2 Digital Families report highlights four distinct family profiles:

The Leaders: The Techno-Taylors are excited by technology, find it easy to use, use it extensively and are true believers in the way it helps families communicate. They represent 5.5 million UK families

The Resistors: The Hesitant-Hills are more hesitant about technology, despite having lots of mobile phones, games consoles and TVs in the house. They represent 4.3 million UK families

The Followers: The Relaxed-Roberts are excited by technology but take a pragmatic approach to the things that they buy and the role it plays in family life. They represent 3.8 million UK families

The Drifters: The Pushover-Platts base their technology attitudes, purchasing decisions and usage around what the kids want. They represent 3.5 million UK families

Work-life balance

The report also identified the impact that recent technology – such as email on the move and social networking – has on family life. Despite accusations that today’s ‘BlackBerry’ culture makes maintaining a healthy work-life balance difficult, the report suggests otherwise. One in three parents claim access to email and the internet on the move makes it easier to balance work and family responsibilities – only 6% said it made it harder.

“How parents control technology is key to maintaining work-life balance,” said social analyst Bob Tyrell, who compiled the report. “Many may argue that the ability to stay in touch with work means we never completely switch off and relax, but the verdict from our report shows this does not weigh too heavily with parents.”

Maintaining family relationships

With so many gadgets and gizmos at their fingertips, families are using technology to help them maintain strong relationships. 51% of parents say they play computer games together in a typical week and over one third will sit down and surf the net together. Similarly, around one in five parents are using social networks to keep in touch with immediate (19%) and extended (22%) family members.

According to the report, there is still no substitute for families spending traditional quality time together – 45% of parents believe a family meal is the best way to maintain family bonds. Families are eating together an average of 5.4 times a week.

But the report also found it is technology that allows families to have that quality time. 60% of parents claim that ‘technology such as email and mobile phones helps us communicate better as a family’. Moreover, 79% say that mobile phones have made organising family life easier. The report concludes that digital technology plays a positive part in fostering family ties because it frees up the day for the families to spend together.

“This report reveals just how pervasive technology now is within UK homes,” said Alistair Johnston, Marketing Director, Telefónica O2 UK. “At O2 we strongly believe that technology has a hugely positive role to play in helping families better manage their hectic lives, but also ultimately in being able to spend more time together. Technology such as the new O2 Joggler can play a role in this.”

Visit www.o2.co.uk/family for more information on the O2 Joggler and O2’s family propositions.