We all know internet use is rising – but a biennial survey from Oxford reveals exactly who is going online and why, as Jamie Condliffe reports.

Wired World

By Jamie Condliffe

In 2013, 78 per cent of the UK population said that they use the internet — but that figure alone doesn’t tell the whole story. In the Oxford Internet Institute’s biennial Internet Survey, torrents of data about Britain’s internet use allow researchers to discover in incredible detail how the internet is used around the country.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, use is highest in London, where 89 per cent of people report that they use the internet, but Reading and Leicester are hot on its digital heels, with similar levels of reported activity. It’s Wales and the North-East where use is less widespread, with just 59 to 70 per cent of inhabitants across large swathes of both regions reporting that they get online.

Fortunately, non-use of the internet continues to decline — and faster than it has done in the past. Between 2011 and 2013, non-use dropped from 23 per cent to 18 per cent. The same five per cent drop took four years last time, between 2007 and 2011. ‘This is real progress in addressing the digital divide,’ notes the report. And the main reason for not getting online is simply lack of interest: non-users simply don’t care whether they’re online or not.

Such disparities in view have seen the Oxford Internet Institute coin new terms for people who interact with the internet. Indeed, their research suggests that there exists a spectrum of users, from e-mersives — those who are ‘comfortable and naturally at home in the online world’ — to adigitals, who consider the internet difficult to use and full of immoral material. Sat within that spectrum are techno-pragmatists, who use the web to make their lives easier but don’t use it for fun, and cyber-moderates, who use the internet but are aware that it could pose a threat to their privacy, or waste their  time.

Of those that do embrace the internet with enthusiasm, their use of it is diverse. In the words of the report, it can vary ‘from reading books and watching films to taking courses, from blogging to making and distributing videos to the world, from exchanging emails with friends to video conferencing with work colleagues’. Interestingly, while use of media services online — the posting of photographs, say — has seen an increase over the past two years, more mundane activity such as search engine use has declined as a proportion.

The report also notes that social media services, like Facebook and Twitter, have become ‘become part of popular culture’. But while their popularity has outstripped the activities of blogging or maintaining a website — thought to be because social media requires less time commitment — their use now seems to be plateauing. With approximately two-thirds of internet users in Britain using social media, the report suggests that the steadying in use is because, given their ubiquity, ‘people who are not using them are likely to be doing so by choice’.

Jamie Condliffe (Magdalen, 2002) is the former digital editor of Oxford Today and is a contributing editor at the Future Cities Catapult.

Image: visualization of routing paths through a portion of the internet, by The Opte Project via Wikimedia Commons.