Computers and the internet

This is the third year running that Spotlight’s exclusive NOP research has examined computer use and Internet access, each time using a precisely matched sample of 1,000 people aged 15 and over throughout Great Britain.

Growth shows no sign of slowing down, especially on the domestic front. Regular computer use has risen from 42 per cent of all adults in 1997 to 48 per cent this year, with home use just edging ahead of work for the first time. Thirty per cent of adults now use a computer at home, compared with 28 per cent at work, and ten per cent at school or college.

Although use is still highest among 15- to 24-year-olds, it has stabilised at 73 per cent, and older age groups are catching up. Two-thirds of 25- to 34-year-olds are regular users, compared with half in 1997, and the proportion of 35- to 54-year-olds has also risen, from 40 to 55 per cent. Only the oldest sector of the population are still relatively untouched by the new tech- nology, with less than a fifth of this group being regular users.

The market has also become less skewed upmarket. Most of the new users come from the C2DE sector; almost forty per cent are regular users, compared with 25 per cent last year. But this increase is mainly the result of changes at work; upmarket – ABC1 – adults still make up 64 per cent of home users, although they represent only 45 per cent of the population. The Midlands caught up with the South in home use during 1998, but the North is still trailing.

Internet access

The growth in Internet use is even more spectacular. Fifty-seven per cent of people who use a computer regularly now access the Internet, compared with 40 per cent last year. Home access has almost doubled, from 17 per cent of users at the end of 1997 to 29 per cent at the end of 1998; as many people can now use the Internet at home as at work.

Access from centres of education also increased – from 15 per cent of all users to 20 per cent; a third of British adults now have access to the Internet.

The most prosperous social group, the ABs, are twice as likely to have Internet access at home as any other group: a third have home connection, compared with 18 per cent of C1s and seven per cent of C2DEs. Work access is far less polarised, open to a quarter of all white-collar workers, both ABs and C1s. That’s more than three times as many as among C2DEs, although this is to a large extent dictated by the type of jobs being done. Educational use is far less skewed, although ABC1 households are still more likely to enjoy this type of facility.

There is little difference between the three regions of the country in work, home or educational access rates. Under 35-year-olds are only slightly ahead of the 35- to 54-year-olds in levels of Internet access, at home and at work; but levels drop to less than one in ten of the over-55s. The oldest sector of the population is in danger of being left out of the technological revolution, although it might most benefit from an advanced home-based communications system.

Five per cent of people without home access to the Internet intend to connect within the next three months, and another seven per cent within the next year. Of this interested market, more than half have a PC at home, so are very likely to be speaking with some understanding of the implications of connection. If all these interested customers do join the Internet, the domestic market will expand by more than 40 per cent in the next year.

The most prosperous social group, the ABs, are three times as likely as any others to be intending to connect to the Internet at home within the next three months. Enthusiasm for the Net does not vary with age: with the exception of the over-55s, all the younger age groups are likely to be looking at connecting to the Internet.

Internet and computer functions used

Business use is included in the computer repertoire for 70 per cent of regular users. Nearly as many – 60 per cent – use computers for “general information”, 54 per cent for education and just under half for entertainment or for communication. Access to the Internet transforms the frequency of all types of use. Nearly nine out of ten Internet users source information through the Net, and eight out of ten use it for communication. Two-thirds use it for education, and six out of ten for entertainment.

Attitudes to technological developments

NOP asked both computer users and non-users about their attitudes to possible developments in computer technology, ranging from familiar aspects such as e-mail to more abstruse and futuristic functions such as interactive TV and home shopping.

Interest among the general public is limited. The only aspect to interest half the population is e-mail “to communicate with friends or relatives”. The other developments attracted less than 40 per cent, with home shopping – both for supermarkets and for larger items – interesting about 25 per cent.

But although interest among the general population is low, the prime market – people already connected to the Internet at home – is a very different story. Two-thirds of domestic subscribers are “very interested” in the communication potential of e-mail, and are presumably already using it. Nearly three-quarters would like to use electronic communication to do more of their business or work from home, and nearly half are very interested.

Electronic banking and investment transactions appeal to 64 per cent of subscribers, and interactive TV to 54 per cent. Only online shopping fails to motivate a majority of domestic users, with little dist inction being made between supermarket or larger items.

It seems, therefore, that consumer interest in the more remote potential of computer technology grows with familiarity and personal availability, rather than acting as a major motivation to new entrants. It is the new opportunities of communication and information, rather than replacements for current activities, which really engage the consumer, and offer the greatest potential for growth.

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