In the short time from 2013 until 2019 the use of mobile has been the most dramatic change in how individuals in Britain use the Internet. This reflects a global trend in the adoption of mobile phones and mobile Internet use. However, the uniquely UK dynamics and consequences of this transformation are starkly illuminated in our OxIS research. The findings demonstrate how embedded the Internet has become in Britain and also how mobile Internet has become not simply a desirable innovation, but an essential aspect of everyday life and work.
Most generally, the value of mobile is evident not only in its adoption, but also in the swift rise in the number of ways people are using mobile Internet – primarily through smartphones – to perform many of the functions previously done almost exclusively on desktop computers and laptops. In some respects the speed of the shift to mobile has been analogous to the shift from black and white to colour TV. While black and white TV diffused slowly, the introduction of colour took off far more rapidly. The prior familiarity of many Internet users with mobile phones and with the Internet facilitated the move to a mobile Internet device – making Internet use simpler and more flexible as the two technologies converged. This helps to explain how this shift could occur so rapidly but it also raises more questions about who is left out, and what difference it makes.
We looked at three modes by which users access the Internet: computer-only access, mobile-only access and those who use both a computer and a mobile (computer+mobile access). Most users are computer+mobile users (63%) but 15 percent are mobile-only and five percent are computer-only users. Computer+mobile users are the most active Internet users by every measure we looked at. We looked at the demographic characteristics of these three modes of access. Computer+mobile users tend to be young, while computer-only users are predominately retired. Mobile-only users also tend to be younger, but the most common category is 41-51 years old. Computer+mobile use is most common in the highest income categories, while computer-only and mobile-only users earn less.
Simple zero-order relationships exist between many other demographic categories and modes of use, but age and income are the strongest relationships. This raises the question of which characteristics are most important. To answer this question we ran multinomial logistic regressions using mode of access as the dependent variable. These confirmed that age and income are the strongest effects. We also found an interaction between age and income for each of the three modes.
- The probability of being a computer+mobile user decreases with age but low-income people have a much smaller probability than high-income users.
- The probability of being a computer-only user increases with age, and the increase is very sharp after age 50. Young people have essentially zero probability of being computer-only users regardless of income. The probability of low-income people over age 80 being computer-only users is over 50 percent.
- The probability of being a mobile-only user decreases with age; the relationship is especially strong for low-income people.
The point is that the relationship between age and income depends on what mode people use to access the Internet. The probability of being either a computer+mobile or a mobile-only user declines with age (but with different shapes); but for computer-only users the probability increases.
This continues a pattern that will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the digital divide. Those with multiple devices, including mobile devices, are the most embedded and advantaged in Britain as it increasingly becomes a digital society, but some are left behind. Non-users have been left on the wrong side of the digital divide, but a small proportion of the public have been left behind by being overly dependent on mobile, the mobile-onlies, while others left behind by missing the opportunities offered through mobile, the computer-onlies. These ‘onlies’ do less online compared to their counterparts who have multiple devices, some of which are mobile. The ‘onlies’ also tend to have lower incomes and less education; in general, lower status. Subsequent reports will look more closely at the ways in which the Internet has become embedded in work and everyday life, and help you to judge whether being a non-user, mobile-only user or computer-only user is an advantage or disadvantage in today’s world.
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