• “Digital elite” to become dominant social and economic force in UK
  • 1 in 4 adults still a ‘Timid Technophobe’
  • Largest study of its kind reveals the six tribes of broadband Britain

Social networking will soon replace social class as the main determining factor in people’s economic wellbeing, according to a new report published today. And our willingness to embrace digital technology and use it effectively will be more important in developing a person’s career than their family background or what school or university they went to.

That’s the prediction of TalkTalk (www.talktalk.co.uk), Britain’s biggest home broadband provider, as it publishes its Digital Anthropology Report, one of the biggest studies of the anthropology of internet usage and behavioural trends ever undertaken in the UK.

TalkTalk interviewed over 2,000 people around the UK for the report and worked with a social anthropologist from the University of Kent to analyse data on their internet usage and their attitudes to technology, and extrapolate future trends.

But while this “digital elite” – made up of people confident about using technology and willing to integrate it into their everyday lives – is set to become a major social and economic force in the next decade, TalkTalk’s research found that nearly a quarter of British adults (23%) are still “Timid Technophobes” uncomfortable with using technology.

Prof David Zeitlyn from the University of Kent said: “Traditional class structures are changing fast and, based on how things are changing right now, it seems likely that your openness to new technology and willingness to embrace it will soon become more important in dictating your life chances than, say, your schooling or your parents’ economic status.

“But while this digital elite will emerge and thrive, it’s worrying that nearly a quarter of people are still scared by technology. This digital divide isn’t simply about access to technology – it’s about attitudes and behaviour. This could be the class divide of the future.”

Headline findings

  • The UK has six distinct ‘tribes’ of internet user – “Digital Extroverts,” “E-ager Beavers,” “First Lifers,” “Social Secretaries,” “Web Boomers” and “Timid Technophobes”
  • The largest group in the UK (with 30% of the UK adult population) is “E-ager Beavers” – defined as those who use the internet at work and socially but are mostly ‘passive’ users and do not upload their own content online.
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of British adults are still “Timid Technophobes” while only one in 11 (9%) is a “Digital Extrovert”

About the tribes

  • “Digital Extroverts” comprise 9% of the population. They are early adopters of new technologies and services. The internet is essential to their lives and they regularly upload content online. They are highly likely to blog. 72% own a webcam – the highest percentage of any tribe.
  • “E-ager Beavers” comprise 30% of the population. They use the internet regularly and like it, but they do not have the confidence or inclination to upload their own content or to blog.
  • “First Lifers” comprise 12% of the population. Typically young people in their late teens or early 20s, First lifers are either students or in their first job. They would “rather be surfing than surfing the web.” They spend their time out and about with friends and use mobile broadband to stay in touch. Only 51% of First Lifers regularly use email.
  • “Social Secretaries” comprise 19% of the population. They are typically working mothers who use the internet to organise their busy home, work and social lives. They are wholly pragmatic when it comes to embracing technology – if it makes their lives easier, they are happy to use it.
  • “Web Boomers” comprise 7% of the population. They are likely to be in their 50s and 60s – baby boomers who grew up without the internet but have become educated in how to use it, probably by their children. They use it mostly to read news, pursue hobbies such as family history research, and manage their finances. 90% of Web Boomers have laptops – the highest rate of any tribe.
  • “Timid Technophobes” comprise 23% of the population. They are able to send emails and will use the internet if they have to, but prefer to use telephones or pen and paper. Only 6% regularly download music.

Digital Extroverts
E-ager Beavers
First Lifers
Social Secretaries
Web Boomers
Timid Technophobes

UK
9%
30%
12%
19%
7%
23%

North East
14%
20%
10%
15%
11%
31%

North West
11%
33%
15%
16%
6%
19%

Yorkshire / Humberside
12%
34%
9%
17%
6%
22%

East Midlands
6%
34%
8%
19%
10%
24%

West Midlands
10%
29%
12%
16%
9%
24%

East Anglia
7%
32%
9%
25%
8%
20%

London
14%
30%
18%
15%
4%
19%

South East
11%
27%
9%
20%
8%
25%

South West
7%
26%
10%
23%
6%
28%

Wales
5%
34%
12%
16%
9%
24%

Scotland
7%
31%
16%
16%
10%
20%

Northern Ireland
12%
33%
10%
26%
5%
14%

Tristia Clarke, TalkTalk’s Commercial Director, said: “Digital technology is now such an important part of our lives that it is often difficult to imagine what life was like without it, even though that’s just 10 or 15 years ago.

“This report has given us some important insights into how our customers use the internet and how they have made it fit in with their lives, and the findings can help us shape products and services that better appeal to the six tribes of homo digitalis and adapt to our changing behaviour in future.”

Prof David Zeitlyn said: “What we found was that ‘homo digitalis’ actually consists of six tribes with very different attitudes, usage patterns and modes of behaviour.

“Some of these tribes have embraced technology and put it at the centre of their lives – they would check their emails while eating dinner, think it perfectly normal to conduct in-depth relationships with strangers thousands of miles away via instant messaging or email, and skip sleep to play internet-enabled multi-player games late into the night.

“Other groups, meanwhile, are more cautious. For them, ‘the internet’ is a mysterious and rather frightening jungle. It’s carefully contained in a white box kept in one room of the house, and they only visit once every day or so, perhaps to email friends or family around the world, or to do some very basic online research.”

The full Digital Anthropology Report can be downloaded from: www.talktalk.co.uk/we-love-the-web/digital-anthropology/tribes.