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More people online than ever, but third in Northern Ireland take time out for 'a digital detox'

By Claire McNeilly

Published 04/08/2016

Could you live without your smartphone?
Could you live without your smartphone?
Ofcom report: Jonathan Rose

More than one in three internet users in Northern Ireland has embarked upon a 'digital detox' in the last 12 months in an attempt to reintroduce themselves to real life.

That's according to new research from Ofcom, which also found that more people here are now online, both at home and on the move, than ever before.

It also emerged than more than a quarter of people across the province use their devices to communicate with people while they are in the same room as them.

In its annual publication, the communications watchdog revealed that the majority of users admitted they're hooked, spending almost 19 hours a week online.

Jonathan Rose, Ofcom Northern Ireland director, said the report demonstrated how an increasing dependency on the internet was affecting people's personal and working lives, leading many to shy away from the web entirely.

"More people in Northern Ireland are now online than ever before, but our relationship with the web isn't always plain surfing and many people admit to feeling hooked," he said.

"In search of a better tech/life balance, many people are choosing to take a bit of breathing space from the web and instead spending more time with friends and family."

Ofcom's Communications Market Report Northern Ireland 2016 discovered that over a third (36%) of Northern Ireland's internet users have opted for time offline.

Two-thirds (65%) of consumers had cut down on specific activities, such as using social media or browsing the web, and half (49%) of parents had made rules to limit their children's time online.

Of those who abstained, 29% felt more productive, according to the research, while 38% were less distracted.

However, a quarter (25%) of digital detoxers experienced a 'fear of missing out' (FOMO) while on the web wagon, 18% felt lost and 22% 'cut off'.

The new study, published today, shows that over three-quarters of homes here now have a fixed line broadband connection, up from 69% in 2015 to 77% this year.

Customers are also embracing faster mobile internet connections, with more than half (54%) of local adults having a 4G mobile service - up from 26% in 2015.

People in Northern Ireland are also increasingly using smartphones to get online. Seven in 10 people (72%) own a smartphone - up from 63% in 2015, and it remains the most popular device for accessing the internet. Smartphone ownership is higher here than in any other UK region.

Among the other findings, 70% of internet users in Northern Ireland now do their shopping online, while 63% use social networking sites.

Some people are using their devices to communicate with people while they are in the same place as them, with over a quarter (27%) of Northern Ireland people having done this. At home, at a friend's house, in a bar or restaurant are the most likely places to communicate electronically with people while they are physically present.

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