Greg Barila

Journalist. Editor. Social Media specialist.

Australians love their digital devices - and we’re happy to be always switched on

First in line in Adelaide for the new iPhone 6. Abdullah Asghar, 18, of Adelaide and Parteek Singh, 19, of Marden. Photo: Tait Schmaal
IF somehow you could build a time machine, and turn back the clock just a decade, here’s a list of the popular social networks you’d wipe off the map just like that; Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Snapchat, Foursquare and Tumblr.
You’d also erase the first generation iPhone, the iPad, Samsung’s Galaxy series of smartphones and the Amazon Kindle.
Go back 20 years and you obliterate the iPod and the internet.
Twenty years is a speck in human history, but in just two decades, Australians have done more than just sniffed and kicked new media’s tyres.
We’ve jumped into the driver’s seat, spun the tyres and sped off down the Information Super Highway, letting new technologies revolutionise every facet of our lives, from how we connect with friends, to how we shop, stay across the news and watch TV.
Deloitte annual media survey of more than 2300 people this year found Australians are becoming ‘digital omnivores’, with more of us owning at least three devices.
And tablet sales, particularly among “matures” – people aged 67+, who are finally catching up with the early adopters – are driving the trend.
“We’ve gone tablet mad,” the Deloitte report says.
According to research firm Telsyte, tablet sales doubled in Australia in 2013 to almost five million units, taking total usage to around nine million, with predictions tablet penetration will overtake the reach of desktop computers “sometime during the middle of 2015”.
We haven’t stopped snapping up smartphones, either.
Smartphone ownership is now over 80 per cent, in line with the explosive rise of mobile worldwide.
According to figures from GSMA Intelligence, half the world’s population now has a mobile phone – 100 million of them just since April. That’s 750,000 new mobile users a day, a staggering nine per second.
Our device addiction, Deloitte says, is causing us to “multi-task like it’s going out of fashion”, with 79 per cent of us reporting we now bury our heads in myriad tasks – thumbing through Twitter and Facebook, writing text messages, sending emails, following breaking news – while watching TV.
The buzz word is “second-screening”.
And while TV is still Australia’s number one source of entertainment, the Deloitte report says we’ve finally reached a critical “tipping point” and the internet for social and personal use will overtake TV as our preferred source of entertainment as soon as this year.
According to a 2013 Nielsen study, Australians now spend the equivalent of a full day, 23.3 hours, online every week, fuelled by the availability of portable devices and our voracious appetite for apps – particularly social and “utility” apps, for stuff like banking and weather.
Nicola Alcorn, co-author of the Deloitte report, says how, and when, we use our devices depends on the context. Are we at home, on the bus, at work or on the couch?
“We know that our banking clients for example are seeing a real surge of smartphone traffic via apps during the morning and evening commuting periods,” Alcorn says.
“So, when people are going to and from work, there tend to be short, sharp interactions, sort of tied to transactions, paying bills,” she says.
“They see stronger tablet usage in the evening, from 7pm, so that’s when you might have a user who’s watching television or multi-tasking doing several other things.”
The mass migration to digital has also revolutionised news, with 35 per cent of those surveyed by Deloitte saying they prefer to read news in a digital format, and 32 per cent listing breaking news as one of their top three reasons for using social media.
And while print newspaper sales have dipped in recent years, the explosive growth of digital technologies means newspapers are now reaching more people than ever before.
“In the six months to March 2014, the total newspaper media audience across print and digital platforms has grown by 600,000 readers,” a 2014 report by The Newspaper Works found.
“This has been driven by the move to digital products but it also means more people are reading newspaper content,” the report stated.
The Advertiser’s digital editor, Michael Owen-Brown, says the data clearly shows readers increasingly are moving across multiple devices through the course of a day to keep up with the news.
“Early in the morning we see a surge in smartphone traffic and tablet app visits as people get up to speed with the big stories of the day,” Owen-Brown said.
“After 9am, the desktop site rapidly gains momentum as people browse the net from their office computers. Traffic peaks around lunchtime and people visiting the site between noon and 2pm typically stay longer and read more stories.
“After 8pm it’s ‘me time’ and it’s obvious that many people are casually browsing Facebook on their smartphone or tablet as they lie on the couch.”
In other words, it’s evenings when Digital Omnivores, like Tom Williamson, 32, Head of Social at Clemenger BBDO, are truly in their element.
Williamson’s device day starts the moment he’s woken by the alarm on his iPhone and doesn’t end until he’s surfing the web while watching his favourite TV shows at night on the couch.
Between those bookends he’ll check his sleep pattern using his “Jawbone” wristband, scan the day’s headlines on his phone over breakfast, download key metrics from his ride to the office using his Garmin device, and move between three screens on his desktop at work.
“When I get home I’ll be checking emails from the day, from mum and dad, or people who want to email me after hours.”
Williamson is virtually never off the grid but being constantly plugged in comes at a price – separation anxiety.
“Since I’ve had my iPhone and iPad, so probably in the past six years, I’ve been without both for four days.
“There’s never really an off time.
“But it’s been part of my life for such a long time now that I feel lost without it”.