By Max Clarke

More than 1 in 2 Britons feel ‘upset’ or deprived when cut off from the internet, even for short periods of time.

The extent of people’s ‘digital dependency’ in their everyday lives has been revealed by international consumer research specialist Intersperience in a new project entitled ‘Digital Selves.’

The project, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 individuals from age 18 to over 65s, questioned people about their 'digital lives' including their attitudes and use of the internet, smartphones and other connected devices.

“Online and digital technology is increasingly pervasive,” commented Paul Hudson, Chief Executive of Intersperience. “Our ‘Digital Selves’ research shows how just dominant a role it now assumes, influencing our friendships, the way we communicate, the fabric of our family life, our work lives, our purchasing habits and our dealings with organisations.”

The project also involved qualitative research, including challenging participants to get through one full day without using technology. Giving up technology was considered by some to be as hard as quitting smoking or drinking, while one survey participant described it as “like having my hand chopped off” and another called it “My biggest nightmare.”

A significant number of people ‘cheated’ by switching on the television or radio as they did not regard them as ‘technology.’ Others agreed to the challenge but turned their mobile phones to silent, regarding being completely disconnected even for one day as “inconceivable.”

Many participants found it extremely hard to resist the temptation to go online, especially those for whom online communication represents a large part of their social interaction. A total of 40% of people felt ‘lonely’ when not engaging in activities such as social networking, emails, texting or watching their favourite television channels.

Younger people, who tend to be heavier users of social media and text messaging, found giving up technology the most difficult while older people (over-40s) generally coped more easily when cut off from digital connections. Only a minority of those surveyed reacted positively to the prospect of being without an internet connection, with 23% saying they would feel “free.”

Hudson added: “ We have gathered clear evidence that the UK has fully entered the Digital Age. The resulting stepchange in the way we engage with technology has occurred faster than many of us had anticipated. This has profound implications for society both from a personal and commercial perspective. We are about to embark on a new study looking exclusively at digital engagement in Under-18s which we expect to highlight even more radical developments in the behaviour and attitudes of children and teenagers.”

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