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Britons now text more than make calls, finds Ofcom

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© Rex Features

People in the UK are now texting more than talking, while the average Briton spends 90 minutes per week using social media sites such as Facebook, according to new research from Ofcom.

The media regulator's latest report indicates that newer ways of communicating, such as texting and social networking, are being led by 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK.

This has meant that text-based communications are surpassing traditional phone calls or meeting face to face as the most frequent way for UK adults to stay in touch.

For Ofcom's Communications Market Report, the watchdog asked adults what methods they used at least once a day to communicate with friends and family.

It found that the average UK consumer now sends 50 texts per week, double the amount of four years ago, and more than 150 billion SMS messages were sent in 2011 alone.

Almost 90 minutes per week is spent by adults accessing social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, or using email or the internet on a mobile device.

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Meanwhile, for the first time ever fewer phone calls are being made in comparison on both fixed and mobile phones.

Predictably, teenagers and young adults are leading the way with this shift, as they are increasingly socialising with friends and family through text messages, despite stating a preference for face-to-face communications.

According to Ofcom's report, 96% of 16- to 24-year-olds are using some form of text-based application on a daily basis to communicate with others - with 90% using SMS and 73% using social networking sites.

By comparison, talking on the phone is less popular among this group, with 67% making phone calls on a daily basis, and 63% talking face to face.

Overall, time spent on the phone by UK adults fell by 5% in 2011, which was reflected in a 10% drop in the volume of calls from landlines and, for the first time ever, a 1% fall in mobile calls.

Psychologist Graham Jones, who has just done a major study on text messaging for mobile company Acision, said that SMS remains a "functional tool" but its "personal aspect" could explain the enduring popularity.

"You can say things in text you wouldn't necessarily say on another communication tool," he said.

"Although there has been an influx in new broadband-based messaging services, which people are certainly experimenting with, people are differentiating services according to their need and using them as complementary services as opposed to stopping usage of one or another messaging service."

Text message
Jones added: "If a user sends a message via a social network, it may feel less immediate, and there are more technological hurdles which could hinder the delivery. Texting, however, often elicits an immediate response.

"Running in the back of the human mind is the need to do everything with the least possible effort, and we instinctively search for the easiest way to communicate. This is why we rely on and still love text messaging."

In its report, Ofcom said that the change in communication habits is also down to "the rapid increase in ownership of internet-connected devices, such as tablets and smartphones - making access to web-based communications easier".

The regulator said that UK households now own on average three different types of internet-enabled devices - such as a laptop, smartphone or games console - while 15% own six or more devices.

Four in ten (39%) of adults now own a smartphone, up 12% on 2010, and 42% of these people say that their mobile is the most important device they have for accessing the internet.

Some 42% regularly use social networking sites on their phone and 51% use email.

Interestingly, Ofcom's research suggests that smartphone growth is leading to a reduction in use of other devices, as owners reported using their PC and laptops since getting a smartphone, particularly for activities such as watching video clips (51%) and sending messages (47%).

Overall, the time using the internet on mobile devices was up by almost a quarter (24.7%) year-on-year, with the overall volume of mobile data consumed doubling over the 18 months to January, 2012.

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