Ofcom: six-year-olds understand digital technology better than adults
Children, growing up with YouTube, Netflix and Spotify, learning to use smartphones or tablets before they are able to talk
Juliette Garside, The Guardian, Thursday 7 August 2014
They may not know who Steve Jobs was or even how to tie their own shoelaces, but the average six-year-old child understands more about digital technology than a 45-year-old adult, according to an authoritative new report published on Thursday.
The advent of broadband in the year 2000 has created a generation of digital natives, the communication watchdog Ofcom says in its annual study of British consumers. Born in the new millennium, these children have never known the dark ages of dial up internet, and the youngest are learning how to operate smartphones or tablets before they are able to talk.
“These younger people are shaping communications,” said Jane Rumble, Ofcom’s media research head. “As a result of growing up in the digital age, they are developing fundamentally different communication habits from older generations, even compared to what we call the early adopters, the 16-to-24 age group.”
Ofcom devised a “digital quotient”, or DQ test to put 800 children and 2000 adults through their paces, which rather than measuring intelligence attempts to gauge awareness and self confidence around gadgets from tablets to smart watches, knowledge of superfast internet, 4G mobile phone networks and mobile apps.
Among six to seven year olds, who have grown up with YouTube, Spotify music streaming and the BBC iPlayer, the average DQ (digital quotient) score was 98, higher than for those aged between 45 and 49, who scored an average of 96. Digital understanding peaks between 14 and 15, with a DQ of 113 – and then drops gradually throughout adulthood, before falling rapidly in old age.
The nation is now being invited to test its digital knowledge with an abbreviated version of the questionnaire that will give any member of the public a DQ score, along with advice on how to improve their understanding and protect themselves and their families online. (…)
The ways in which millennial children contact each other and consume entertainment are so different from previous generations, forecasters now consider their preferences a better indication of the future than those of trend setting young adults.
The most remarkable change is in time spent talking by phone. Two decades ago, teenagers devoted their evenings to monopolising the home telephone line, dissecting love affairs and friendships in conversations that lasted for hours.
For those aged 12 to 15, phone calls account for just 3% of time spent communicating through any device. For all adults, this rises to 20%, and for young adults it is still three times as high at 9%. Today’s children do the majority of their remote socialising by sending written messages or through shared photographs and videos. “The millennium generation is losing its voice,” Ofcom claims. (…)
Away from their phones, 12- to 15-year-olds have a very different relationship with other media too. A digital seven day diary shows live television accounts for just half of viewing for this age group, compared to nearly 70% for all adults. They spend 20% of their time viewing short video clips, for example on YouTube, or news clips distributed via Facebook and other social sites. The rest of their viewing is shared between DVDs, streamed content through Netflix or iTunes, or recorded television programmes. (…)
Even among adults, television is becoming less important. The number of hours spent in front of the box fell for the first time since a new measurement system was introduced in 2009, from 4 hours and two minutes in 2010 and 2011 to 3 hours and 52 minutes in 2013. Had it not been for the London Olympics in 2012, television viewing would have fallen during that year as well. (…)