RESEARCH - Annual imec.digimeter: use of digital services is booming and digital dependency is rising

(24-01-2018) According to our annual imec.digimeter, digibesity is still increasing.

According to our new imec.digimeter report, the end of the digibesity phenomenon is not reached yet. The latest figures – based on a survey of more than 2.300 Flemish people – show that the use of digital services is booming, and digital dependency is rising, especially among those in their 20s and 30s. However, Flemings appear to be aware of the presence and effects of digibesity, with six in ten smartphone users spontaneously imposing rules on themselves to keep smartphone use under control. However, they also admit that doing so is difficult in practice. This is why imec.digimeter researchers have expanded their study this year with a ‘Mobile DNA’ app that allows respondents to map out their media usage in detail. These new insights form the basis of their ongoing research.

“An initial and striking observation made by the new imec.digimeter study is that the simultaneous use of digital services continues to boom,” says Prof. Lieven De Marez, the driving force behind imec.digimeter research and head of our research group. “Netflix (from 15% penetration in 2016 to 21% in 2017), WhatsApp (from 25% to 31%), YouTube (from 48% to 54%) and Instagram (from 25% to 30%) experienced strong growth. It is also worth noting that more people are making use of paid services. The rising popularity of Netflix is one example of this trend, and 19% of respondents stated that they pay for online music via streaming or downloading services (+6% compared to 2016).”

The way in which the Fleming uses these services is evolving – with the smartphone and laptop/computer appearing to win the argument. Although almost everybody has access to multiple screens at home (from game consoles and computers to smartphones, tablets and TVs), imec.digimeter respondents indicated that they find their smartphones (37%) and computers (24%) the most indispensable. This label is applied much less frequently to the TV set (12%) and the tablet (6%). These differences are even more pronounced among people in their 20s: 54% indicate that the smartphone is their most indispensable device.

“Along with the increasing use of digital applications, dependency also increases,” observes Bart Vanhaelewyn, researcher at imec and imec.digimeter data analyst. “An increasing number of people conclude that they spend too much time on social media: that number increased to 34% of imec.digimeter respondents in 2017 – with outliers among teenagers (52%), those in their 20s (56%) and those in their 30s (42%). In addition to those in their 20s (31%) and 30s (also 31%), respondents feel pressured to stay in contact with their workplaces through the use of new digital applications. As many as 41% of Flemings surveyed believe that digital applications have penetrated deeply into their personal lives – with 20-year-olds (51%) and 30-year-olds (50%) the most convinced.”

Professor De Marez also notes that more people are trying to handle digital services in a more conscious, ‘media-wise’ manner. They spontaneously impose rules on themselves to keep their smartphone use under control. “Six in ten smartphone users surveyed do this – a significant increase (+6%) over last year. And again, we see a peak among those in their 20s (69%) and 30s (68%). The most common tricks they use are: blocking smartphones during conversations, meetings and lessons (36%), disabling notifications (26%) and putting smartphones away while driving (22%),” he says. “But in practice, it remains difficult to control this activity.”

“Based on the insights we’ve gathered over the last several years, we would like to offer respondents in 2018 an extra tool that enables them to map their personal media use in an objective scientific way, and connect it with a number of concrete actions. This is achieved through our ‘Mobile DNA’ app, which will be launched within the context of the broader ‘Kop Op’ (‘Heads Up’) campaign. The app – the first of its kind worldwide – will be available for free to Android users as of January 25th. It will monitor users’ media use for two weeks and then display the data gathered in a personal DNA profile that they can use to get started on their own,” concludes Lieven De Marez.

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