A timeline of the internet: how the Brits log on

By Harry Wallop

People are using social media from the minute they wake up. Photo / 123rf
People are using social media from the minute they wake up. Photo / 123rf

The peak time for Brits to buy Peppa Pig merchandise (Britain's most popular toy brand) is in the middle of the night, according to eBay, the online retailer.

Sleep-deprived parents are presumably taking the opportunity - as they feed a howling baby - to log on and make a purchase in the hope they can pacify their offspring with the promise of a plastic Daddy Pig car or new pyjamas.

Three o'clock in the morning may seem a strange time to shop, but it confirms we are a nation that is almost permanently online.

A typical household has more than seven internet-connected devices and the average adult last year spent three hours and nine minutes every day surfing, according to the internet advertising bureau (IAB).

So what on earth are the Brits all doing? A study of all the research unearths a typical 24 hours of Britain online - with some surprising results.

6am: THOSE BECKHAM UPDATES

People start to log on to the internet in droves, with one in ten smartphone owners instinctively reaching for their device as soon as they wake - and not just to turn off the alarm.

A third activate their phone within five minutes of waking, primarily to check for text messages and emails.

Facebook has a surge in traffic at 6.04am as people log onto the social media platform while still in bed. What have David Beckham or Rihanna got up to overnight? Many of us can't wait until breakfast to find out.

The peak time for Brits to buy Peppa Pig merchandise (Britain's most popular toy brand) is in the middle of the night, according to eBay, the online retailer.
The peak time for Brits to buy Peppa Pig merchandise (Britain's most popular toy brand) is in the middle of the night, according to eBay, the online retailer.

Dr Bernie Hogan, research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, says there has been a "stretching of the day" as a result of logging on the moment we wake. "The decoupling of time from social activity has been a really important effect of the internet," he says.

In the past, it would have been considered rude to call someone's landline before 8am or after 9pm - today, sending a text in the middle of the night is not.

7am: CHECKING BANK BALANCE

By 7.15am, more secondary school children in the UK are on the internet than watching TV, according to the media regulator Ofcom.

Apparently, the main activity for 11 to 15-year-olds between 7.15am and 7.30am is watching short online clips on YouTube or updating their social media.

For their part, adults will be busy on their mobiles and tablet apps. First Direct, the online bank, says it sees a surge in customers checking their bank balances around this time.

Searches for weather forecasts on Google peak at exactly 7am.

8am: PODCAST ON TRAIN

More and more Brits tune into a podcast while they commute to work at about 8am.

Until recently, commuters rarely logged onto the internet. But with the arrival of 4G and wifi on trains and in London Underground stations, we are rarely not connected.

Many are listening to podcasts of radio and online programmes they have downloaded. These are increasingly popular, growing 23 per cent over the past year.

The most popular podcast recently has been the comedy show My Dad Wrote A Porno (based on a blog by Jamie Morton in which he reads extracts of an erotic novel his 60- year-old father wrote about a sales executive at a pots and pans firm), which started with a cult following.

Until recently, commuters rarely logged onto the internet, but now people check news sites and listen to podcasts while they get to work. Photo / 123rf
Until recently, commuters rarely logged onto the internet, but now people check news sites and listen to podcasts while they get to work. Photo / 123rf

The next most popular is the Radio 4 Archers serial omnibus.

At 8am there is the first jump in traffic for most news apps, such as the BBC, and newspaper websites such as MailOnline.

These are a more common way for young adults under the age of 25, to learn about current affairs than traditional media, according to the research firm Enders Analysis.

9am: FIRST OF 40 EMAILS

As people arrive at work, mobile phone usage briefly drops as their computers are turned on.

Between 9.30am and 10am is peak time for adults under the age of 45 to send and receive emails.

On average, office workers deal with 40 emails a day, but one in 12 process 100, according to Warwick business school.

Retired people tend to send most of their emails just after 10am.

10am: PAYING THE BILLS

Internet use peaks as workers knuckle down. It's also the time that office workers and stay-at-home parents sort out their personal administration online.

It's the busiest time of day for Barclays Bank website, as people pay bills and transfer money.

House-hunters are also sending emails, making inquiries about properties they've spotted online (invariably the night before, while scrolling through the internet before bed), according to online estate agency Zoopla.

While listening to live radio peaks around 7.30am, the most popular time to tune into iPlayer radio, the BBC on-demand service, is 11.30am, as stay-at-home parents, retired people and students download and enjoy programmes they have missed or listen to a live show on their phone.

Secondary schools see a small surge in social media use between 11am and 11.15am - break-time - as pupils instant-message their friends or go onto Facebook and Snapchat (the social media messaging service that is popular with the young).

NOON: BRIDES BROWSING

Concentration wanes at work towards lunchtime, and that's when online clothes retailers see a surge in people searching for items.

The peak buying and browsing time is in the evening (along with most internet use), but in the run-up to lunch there is a smaller, yet significant spike.

Retailer John Lewis says this is prime time for people to go online looking at womenswear.

Oddly, too, there is an increase in men searching for bridesmaid dresses, according to eBay, suggesting that grooms are helping the bride on their lunch break.

Though most flights abroad are booked in the evening, this is the time that work trips to places in Europe are arranged, says Expedia, the online travel agency.

1pm: THE DEADZONE . . .

Lunchtime sees a slight lull in internet use, especially on computers. (1.40pm is a deadzone, says Trajectory, a research company that has analysed our habits in 15-minute chunks throughout the day, using Oxford University data).

But once lunch is over, at around 1.50pm, there is a spike in social media as we get our fix of funny videos and gossip from the internet.

Concentration wanes at work towards lunchtime, and that's when online clothes retailers see a surge in people searching for items. Photo / 123rf
Concentration wanes at work towards lunchtime, and that's when online clothes retailers see a surge in people searching for items. Photo / 123rf

2pm: WE WORK (FINALLY!)

With workers back at their desks, there's the inevitable steady increase in internet use. The peak time for using a computer is 3.50pm.

Microsoft Outlook is busiest at 3pm, as people both attempt to get work done and enliven a dull afternoon by distracting themselves with a spot of so-called 'no-work activity'.

There is also a small increase in use of Snapchat at 3pm.

4pm: GRAN ON FACETIME

As children get home from school, Facebook messenger traffic starts to increase and YouTube is increasingly accessed, too.

How else have chart stars Justin Bieber, Drake and Rihanna managed to get more than five billion views between them this year on the video service?

People over the age of 65 who enjoy the video-calling service FaceTime are most likely to use it at 4pm, suggesting they are contacting their grandchildren who have just returned from school.

5pm: VIDEO GAME FRENZY

The commute home is less internet-heavy than the morning commute, though smartphone usage climbs heavily in this hour.

People begin playing online games for the first time during the day at 5pm. It's not just children; adults finishing work grab the controls of PlayStations or Xboxes at this time, too. Nearly all of the 47 per cent of households with a games console have one that is internet-enabled, allowing people to play Grand Theft Auto or Fifa 16 against opponents they don't know.

6pm: HOUSE HUNTING

This is the most popular time to house-hunt online, according to Zoopla, the online estate agent.

Online shopping starts to climb. A decade ago, most was done in the afternoon, with workers using their company's reliable broadband to click and buy. Now, it is done at home.

The peak time for exercise is 7pm and just over one in five of us does so with an internet-connected device, accompanied by streamed music or the radio.

7pm: GETTING GROCERIES

After dinner, online browsing for shopping and social media becomes Britain's second biggest evening activity, beaten only by watching TV soaps or catch-up.

By 8pm, around 75,000 customers will be shopping on the Tesco.com grocery website. (The most popular items are bananas and a four-pint bottle of semi-skimmed milk).

Peak-time for the use of dating apps Tinder and OkCupid is between 9pm and 10pm. Photo / 123rf
Peak-time for the use of dating apps Tinder and OkCupid is between 9pm and 10pm. Photo / 123rf

8pm: BAKE OFF TWEETS

This is when so-called 'double-screening' takes off - the phenomenon of people watching TV while also playing with their mobile phone or laptop.

On average, we spend 65 minutes a day watching the TV or listening to the radio while simultaneously using another device.

Twitter, the social media platform, gets most hits during evening TV shows, particularly during the closing minutes of the most popular programmes, such as The Great British Bake Off on a Wednesday, when viewers want to catch up with all the gossip and compare notes with friends.

Jonathan Gershuny, professor of economic sociology at Oxford and regarded as the country's leading expert on how people spend their time, says this simultaneous use of different online gadgets has negative consequences.

"One in four of all the events we do now gets interrupted by a device," he says. Above all, it reduces our attention span.

9pm: LOOKING FOR LOVE

This is the busiest time of day for the internet. Shopping, social media, browsing, online dating and booking holidays all peak.

Parents are unwinding on the sofa; younger children are in bed but are probably using a tablet or a mobile phone; while teenagers are busy messaging their friends.

John Lewis sees peak traffic shortly after 9pm. Most purchases are for interiors and homewares - often the result of people being inspired to buy after watching a TV design or property show.

Mumsnet's Am I Being Unreasonable? forum tends to have its strongest traffic about now, too, as mothers vent their frustration after a long day.

The BBC's iPlayer is busiest at 9.40pm with people catching up on shows that have just finished or programmes they've missed.

Peak-time for the use of dating apps Tinder and OkCupid is between 9pm and 10pm. Probably, after a glass of wine or two, people have built up the courage to message potential lovers.

10pm: PEAK FOR PORN

The internet watershed is 10pm - with huge activity before and a dramatic drop-off afterwards.

But there is an exception: viewing pornography is at its busiest now, according to Pornhub, the website that says it attracted 21.2 billion visits last year (with the UK second after the U.S.).

The average British visitor spends nine minutes and 18 seconds on the site.
There is also a small, but significant, spike in teenage instant messaging in the ten minutes before midnight, suggesting many secondary school children aren't going to sleep until then.

12AM: SLEEP MONITORED

At midnight, internet usage is a fraction of what it was just a few hours earlier.

Even though most people are asleep in the small hours, the web is never fully turned off in some British households.

About 6 per cent of us use an internet-connected device while we are asleep, according to research company Trajectory.

This includes people playing music through a streaming service such as Spotify or listening to online radio while they drift off.

There are also fitness trackers worn on the wrist, such as Fitbits or the Apple Watch, which monitor people's heart rates while they are asleep.

And many new parents struggling to get their babies to sleep are busy online. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 2am is when the Mumsnet sleep forum - where sleep-deprived parents message each other for advice and support - is at its busiest.

3am: PANIC BUYING

In the depths of the night, internet usage slumps to its lowest level. Nevertheless, in our 24/7 world, people remain online.

Between 3am and 4am, on average 2,000 orders are placed on Tesco.com.

According to John Lewis's online director, Sienne Veit, many of its sales at this time are so-called 'distressed purchases' - made by people desperate to buy a particular product quickly.

Oddly, many of these are haberdashery items. Staff suspect that mothers are panic-buying items they suddenly realise they need for a fancy dress item for their child later in the week.

On eBay, it is boom-time for sales of Peppa Pig. Babywear sales, too, do very well, too, just before 6am.

All this is depressing proof that we seem never to be disconnected from the internet.

- Daily Mail

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