Measuring digital intelligence - what this means for how we communicate

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Different generations have differing communication needs which helplines should take into account when thinking about the services they provide. Taking Ofcom’s recent tech savvy test to give me my ‘Digital Quotient’ was an interesting experience, particularly as I was aware that their research had shown that an average 6 year old is more adept at using technology and gadgets than a 45 year old.

Ofcom devised the "Digital Quotient",  (DQ test) involving 800 children and 2000 adults, exploring their confidence and awareness of various gadgets and services like high speed broadband.  Their research showed that digital understanding peaked between 14 and 15 year olds, with a DQ of 113, and then dropped throughout adulthood, decreasing sharply with older people, as 60% of people aged 55 and over have a below average 'DQ' score.

The simplified test, which I took was rather fun, and I was pleased to find out that I have the level of an average 16 year old, which hopefully means that I can stay a few steps ahead of the two small people that I have at home for the next few years at least.

The serious side however of this research is that it shows that we hit our peak confidence and understanding of digital communications and technology when we are in our mid-teens; dropping gradually up to our late 50s and then falling rapidly from 60 and beyond.  This has implications for how we plan and develop helpline services for different groups with different needs.

Children aged 12-15 are turning away from making voice calls on the telephone. Just 3% of their communications time is spent making calls, while the vast majority (94%) is text based, like instant messaging and social networking. Children in this age group are developing fundamentally different communication habits than older generations, even compared to the advanced 16-24 age group, and this is thought to be a result of growing up in our digital age.

However older generations still prefer to talk and 20% of UK adults' communications time is spent on the phone. Adults also prefer to email, which is used for 33% of all their communication. Among 12-15 year olds, email is only used 2% of the time.

Related research is also showing that as a society, we are getting better connected. The number of superfast broadband connections increased by 58% to 6.1 million in the year to March 2014, which means that more people are getting access to technology that can support effective conversations over web cameras.

More people are also getting access to 4G services, which are now available on all four UK national mobile networks, and by March 2014 there were more than 6 million 4G mobile subscriptions. Data provided by the mobile providers showed that 73% of UK premises were in areas with 4G coverage from at least one provider in June 2014.

People are also using smart mobile phones in different ways, and to do more than make voice calls. There were 55 million UK mobile data connections at the end of 2013 and the total number of mobile data connections increased by 6.5 million (13.3%) during the year.

The evidence is pointing to the UK population being better connected, but having different preferred methods of communication. Understanding how our callers want to communicate can mean that it becomes easier for them to reach out and have a conversation that they might find difficult.

Helplines Partnership run a Text-Based Helpline Skills course designed to help organisations respond to the demand for text-based services such as email, SMS and instant messaging.

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