The Digital 2019 report, created by social media management platform Hootsuite and digital marketing agency We Are Social, found that the worldwide average amount of time spent online was six hours and 42 minutes a day.
People in the US racked up an average of six hours and 31 minutes of screen time, compared with five hours and 52 minutes in China and five hours and 46 minutes in the UK.
Of the countries surveyed, people in Japan spent the least amount of time online, averaging just three hours and 45 minutes a day.
Unsurprisingly, social media accounted for a significant amount of time spent on the internet. In the Philippines, people spent an average of four hours and 12 minutes on social media platforms every day, while the global average was two hours and 16 minutes. Again, the lowest social media use was in Japan, where people devoted an average of just 36 minutes to scrolling.
Not mass internet addiction
While a global average of almost seven hours of screen time a day might sound alarming, the figures may not actually indicate mass internet addiction. Sonia Livingstone, a professor in the department of media and communications at the London School of Economics, said, “I don’t think the report tells us anything about overuse at all.”
Instead, Livingstone told CNN, the large amount of time spent on the internet is more likely to reflect “the degree to which government or societal processes have gone online,” citing appointment booking systems, travel information, clocking in and out of work, and communication between employees and employers as examples.
“Many people’s work is solidly online,” she said, while more and more jobs — like driving for Uber, for instance — require the constant use of an app.
The high internet usage in the Philippines, she suggested, could also be influenced by the significant population of Filipinos who work overseas: around 2.3 million, according to the latest government statistics
. “My guess is that this is a lot of families staying in touch when they’re separated,” Livingstone said.
Means of communication
Mirco Musolesi, a reader in data science at University College London, also pointed to communication as the primary reason for time spent online. “A lot of interactions are mediated through internet technology,” he told CNN, citing messaging apps such as WhatsApp. “These are useful, well designed technologies that we enjoy, and they allow us to be connected with people we care about.”
Musolesi also cautioned against perceiving increased screen time as a matter of rising dependence. “There is clearly a question of how to find balance, which is always the case when a new technology is introduced,” he said. “But I don’t think this is a matter of addiction.”
Globally, 57% of the population now uses the internet, according to the report, which is based on data from sources including the United Nations, the US census, the World Bank, market research company Global Web Index and statistics site InternetWorldStats. And that percentage is growing: In 2018, more than 360 million new users accessed the internet.
The country with the greatest connected percentage of the population is the United Arab Emirates, with 99%; at the other end of the scale is Ghana, where 35% of the population use the internet.
While desktop, laptop and tablet computers remain the primary medium to access the internet worldwide, their dominance is steadily declining. Global internet users spent an average of three hours and 28 minutes using the internet on computers in January 2019, compared with four hours and 32 minutes in January 2014.
Smartphones are filling the gap: People are spending an increasing amount of time on the internet using their mobile phone, with a leap to three hours and 14 minutes in January 2019, from one hour and 38 minutes five years earlier.
Naturally, all that screen time adds up. According to study author Simon Kemp, “the world’s digital community will spend a combined total of more than 1.2 billion years using the internet in 2019.”