The internet is part of our everyday lives, and for many or us, it's something we can't do without. Whether it's making impulse buys on eBay at two in the morning, getting sushi delivered to our door through an app, or spending half an hour scrolling through Netflix menus trying to settle on something to watch, our lives now are almost unrecognisable from even just a few years ago.
This has been highlighted by a new report from Ofcom, which sought to find out more about just what we get up to when we use our home broadband services. And unsurprisingly, it found there's not much we don't depend on an internet connection for.
Overall, almost nine out of ten people in the UK (87%) use the internet, with more than four out of five of us (82%) doing so via fixed home broadband services. And for most of us, it's a big part of our day.
Ofcom's research found the average Briton spends three hours and 15 minutes every day online, 11 minutes more than in 2017. This adds up to a total of almost 50 full days every year spent connected to the internet on our laptops, smartphones or connected TVs.
Keeping in touch is, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the most common uses for our broadband. Every week, 44 million people in the UK send or receive emails, while almost half the population (49%) use instant messaging services. Some 70% of adults — and half of 12-year-olds — have a social media account, and one in every five minutes spent online involves engaging with these services.
Shopping is also hugely popular, with 94% of online users accessing an e-commerce site. However, only 70% said they had actually made a purchase, which could indicate even people who prefer bricks and mortar stores still use the internet to browse items, compare prices and read reviews. Amazon is the most common destination, used by 79% of shoppers, followed by eBay (68%).
But while getting news, keeping in touch with friends and family, or buying things we don't really need are popular, the majority of Brits use the internet primarily as an entertainment source. Some 70% of adults said this is the main reason they go online, and this is reflected in huge demand for video and gaming services.
In fact, the most popular website in the UK is YouTube, which reaches 92% of internet users. The average user spends nearly half an hour a day on this service, compared with 25 minutes on Spotify and 14 minutes on Netflix.
As well as streaming video — with BBC iPlayer, ITV and Netflix all on the top ten most-used entertainment services list — gaming is also popular. The UK is the world's fifth-largest market for gaming but, while consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One account for three-quarters of revenue, mobile gaming is where many people spend their time. Indeed, UK users spent almost £1 billion on iPhone and Android games last year, while nearly two-thirds of the population used a mobile gaming app.
However, most of the people Ofcom spoke to did express some reservations about online activities. Some 61% of adults and 79% of children said they'd had a potentially harmful experience online in the past year, with spam emails (34%), fake news (25%) and scams/fraud (22%) the most commonly-encountered issues.
Most adults support tighter rules for social media sites (70%), video-sharing sites (64%) and instant messaging services (61%), although almost half (47%) said websites and social media platforms play an important role in supporting free speech, even if some people might find content offensive.
Overall, though, the majority of people (59%) agreed the benefits of the internet outweigh the risks. And as more people get online and take advantage of streaming TV services and online gaming in the coming years, demand is only set to grow. Therefore, it's vital consumers have the right broadband deal to cope with this rising demand and ensure they're not left behind.