Switching on is the new switching off

A new report into changing perceptions of technology has revealed that two thirds of the UK loves being connected at all times and feels more relaxed when connected than when not. These people have been defined by experts as ‘SOSOs’, those who switch on to switch off. The report was commissioned by Virgin Media and completed by trend analysts and ethnographic researchers at The Future Laboratory.

SOSO behaviour is not only reflected in a love of being connected to technology but also by anxiety caused by the implications of not being connected. Over a third (35%) experienced anxiety when not able to use technology to stay in touch with their family, around a third (31%) was most anxious about not being able to make money/work online and 27 % was most concerned with not being able to connect to friends. Anxiety is also apparent when technology can’t be called upon to provide advice, whether through online maps (25%), dating (21%) or shopping for the best deals (15%).

“SOSOs know that, even if they wish to take some time out, the modern world will continue without them,” said psychologist Nik Simpson.

“At any moment, an urgent email may ping into an inbox, a client may call, an old friend may get in touch via facebook or a family member may want to get in touch. Therefore, to disconnect from technology may mean missing something we cannot afford to. Always being connected actually becomes increasingly essential for peace of mind, further reinforcing SOSO values.”

“Human actions are motivated by the desire to feel good within ourselves,” added psychologist Eva Simpson. “Having modern technology at our fingertips, we will naturally use it as a means of locating stimuli that will satisfy this feeling, encouraging SOSO behaviour.”

The report also discovered a large percentage of stay at home parents are SOSOs. No longer confined to the kitchen and the school run, almost half (48%) find being connected at all times relaxing, leading to the rise of what is defined as the ‘Neo-Nest.’

As well as fulfilling their role as parents, raising children and running the home, these SOSOs are making themselves heard far beyond the front door. With 85 per cent of stay-at-home parents continually connected to broadband in the home, over one in seven (13%) accesses online parenting forums, seeking and giving advice to others in similar situations. A 2008 report found that parents are much more likely to go online than their child-free peers, dedicating over 11 hours a week to the internet.

Siobhan Freegard, co-founder of online parenting network Netmums, is not surprised by the increasing amount of time stay at home parents are spending online. “Particularly for new mums, you are confined to the house for quite long periods, and it really is a link to the outside world.

In a mobile society we are more socially isolated, but then along comes the web and it acts as a tool to replace those social networks and give us new ones. It’s about reconnecting and more mums are using the internet to bring the community together and, in doing so, switching on to switch off, or feel less anxious.”

When not surfing online, stay-at-home parents are the most likely group to be surfing channels; just under half (49%) continually have digital television switched on. They are also the most frequent users of mobile phones (62%), perhaps justified by a desire to socialise with other parents when constrained by the demands of domesticity.

Even when their output is not being consciously consumed, the modern stay-at-home parent either has devices on or on standby. Half of British households always has laptops (74%), mobile phones (76%), and televisions (74%) switched on simultaneously. As a result, the home has become a place where a huge amount of data is consciously and subconsciously consumed at all times.

The SOSO’s relationship with the digital age is also an intimate one. Whereas the traditional view of technology has been something that should be rationed and engaged with infrequently, SOSOs do not share this view. Indeed, around a third of the population in the UK said that did not feel guilty about always being connected, with 31% of 18-24-year-olds, 29% of 25-34s, 33%of 35-44s, 31 per cent of 45-54s and 31% of 55-64s rejecting traditional notions of appropriate technological use.

Mark Schweitzer, chief operating officer at Virgin Media, said: “An ‘always on’ lifestyle may not be for everyone but the report highlights that there is a significant number of people for whom always being connected actually increases peace of mind. More than anything, these findings validate those who already consider themselves SOSOs and give permission to others who may still feel some level of guilt with always being on.”

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