UK – If More Digital, Then Less What? Displacement theory?

Consumers in the UK are lapping up more and more electronic media and communications services according to the new "Communications Market 2004 Report," published last week by Ofcom, regulator for the UK communications industries (TV, telco, wireless, radio, etc) .

Highlights for me are:

  • Time spent online increased eight-fold (average of 2 hours a week on dial-up in 1999 to a reported 16 hours a week in broadband households in mid 2004).
  • Time spent on mobile phone calls almost tripled (average of 10 minutes a week to 27 minutes) (Between 1999 and 2003)
  • Radio listening increased by 6 per cent (41.2 hours per household per week to 43.5 hours).
  • Television viewing increased by 2 per cent (25.6 hours per household per week to 26.1 hours).

Thought: if we are doing more digital media consumption, we must being do less of something else... but less of what? It can't be less commuting because we're doing more of that, or less time doing 'leisure' stuff, but this is on the increase too.  Maybe we're doing more at the same time?

This train of thought led me to an interesting article: The Impact Of Internet Use on Sociability: Time-Diary Findings (PDF) by Norman H. Nie and D. Sunshine Hillygus (Stanford University), exploring the “displacement” theory of Internet use:

"The hypothesis is quite simple: the Internet has created a shift in people’s time allocation. The more time they sit in front of a computer screen, the less time they have for interacting directly with family and friends. This “displacement” model holds that time on one activity simply cannot be spent on another activity, since time is a zero-sum phenomenon. Because there are only 24 hours in a day, time spent on one activity must often be traded off against time spent on other activities. Like any activity, time online fundamentally competes with, rather than complements, face-to-face social time.

The alternate hypothesis is that the Internet offers an additional technology for both engaging in social interaction and coordinating social activities. This efficiency hypothesis contends that the Internet makes other activities more efficient, resulting in less stress and more time for social activities (for example, Franzen 2000). For instance, if an individual is able to shop online more quickly than shopping at a store, it may free up time to spend with friends or family. The data in this article can be used to test whether the net effect of Internet use on sociability more closely adheres to this efficiency hypothesis or to the displacement hypothesis. If the relationship between time on the Internet and time socializing is positive, the results will support the efficiency hypothesis. The present hypothesis, however, is that the relationship is negative, thus supporting the displacement hypothesis."

More related articles are listed at the Stanford University 'IT and Sociability' web journal website.

 Other findings from the Ofcom Communications Market 2004 Report:

  • In real terms consumers now (2004) allocate 4 per cent of household spending to media and communications services, up from 2.9 per cent in 1999.
  • Broadband services are currently available to 88.7 per cent of households and take-up is growing rapidly. (This seems high to me - I know too many friends complaining of zero BB availability in their area?)
  • The number of television channels has risen from 56 to 271. (But they are mostly 'noise'.)
  • For the first time ever in the UK, the total amount of revenue raised by the television industry through subscription has exceeded the total amount of revenue raised from advertising.
  • In the telecoms industry, total consumer spending on mobile services (voice and text) has exceeded total consumer spending on fixed-line phone calls for the first time.
  • Ofcom estimates that the 5 million broadband subscriber milestone will be passed in mid-September 2004.
  • More than one-third of internet households now have a broadband connection.

Skip to main content