Finding old school friends, making new friendships through shared interests, staying in touch with friends and acquaintances, or maintaining strong family ties, the Internet and telecommunications can be a great help. Whether it is a quick chat with friends via a private social network, or sharing photos of a family party online with relatives, digitization and networking plays a significant role in the area of “family and friends” for 57 percent of all Germans surveyed. 51 percent of German Internet users even go as far as to say that without the Internet and telecommunications they would be unable to maintain their friendships and family relationships.
Family and friends: the importance of the Internet and telecommunications
Contact with family and friends is one of the most important things in life for many of us. The Internet and telecommunications help us stay in contact with people and to maintain close relationships, even over long distances. The extent of this is shown, among other things, by the level of agreement with the statement, “Without the Internet and telecommunications, I could not maintain friendships/good relations with my family“.
51 percent of those surveyed in Germany agreed (fully) with this, while 57 percent of respondents in both the USA and Great Britain felt the same, and 69 percent in Hungary. The Internet and telecommunications are even more important for staying in contact with friends and family in France, where 73 percent of respondents agreed with the statement. Agreement among the digital avant-garde group was highest of all, at just under 77 percent (see Figure 28).
For respondents in many countries, the cell phone has become the most important tool for communicating with family and friends. Agreement or full agreement with the statement “When friends try to contact me, they call my cell phone first”, stood at 81 percent in Hungary and 73 percent in South Korea, indicating the increasingly mobile lifestyle and importance of being contactable in these countries. By contrast, a first glance at the figures in Germany suggests quite the opposite, with an overall level of agreement of around 28 percent. However, a detailed breakdown of this into the three cluster areas reveals the direction Germany is also likely to take. While just 17 percent of the digital latecomers state that their friends would first try to contact them by cell phone, this figure rises to 29 percent for the digital mainstream, and then 49 percent for the digital avant-garde.
Another figure reveals the importance the cell phone already has today: to ensure they could be contacted at all times, one in three of the Germans surveyed stated that if they forgot their cell phone, they would return home to get it. Among the digital avant-garde, this figure rises to 68 percent, which is roughly the average level in the other countries surveyed (see Figure 29).
A further important aspect in the area of “family and friends” is making new friendships and reconnecting with old friends. The Internet is a particularly big help here, with 31 percent of German Internet users stating that they found many old friends again (such as from school) through the Internet. This compares to 56 percent of the digital avant-garde. The Internet plays a particularly important role in locating old friends in Hungary, where the figure stands at 61 percent (see Figure 30).
Family and friends: which services interest consumers
56 percent of German web users are very interested in services relating to “personal networking.” These are services that provide a better overview of contacts and addresses, by automatically synchronizing and updating address data, calendars, phone numbers, etc., across a selection of different devices. There is similarly large interest among Germans in social networks, which are platforms where users set up personal profiles and interact with friends. Some of the better-known examples of this type of service are MySpace, Facebook and StudiVZ. 47 percent of the Germans surveyed registered a very high or high interest in such platforms.
The respondents were also almost as interested in Internet communities as they were in social networks. These services focus less on personal contact, and much more on discussing specific topics. Examples here would be online fan clubs or online communities for certain brands, products or topics (46%). Four out often Germans surveyed (41%) also showed a very high or high interest in services that allow users to share digital content, such as photo and video platforms, online photo albums, etc. One third of all German respondents (33%) are interested in new forms of communication (e.g. instant messaging, video telephony, RSS feeds and blogs), while 16 percent of those surveyed stated an interest in online dating and flirting (see Figure 31).
The cross-country comparison shows that, the South Koreans in particular, though also the French, show much more of an interest in the majority of these services. The Hungarian respondents are also very open to the different services cited. For example, 61 percent of Hungarian, 60 percent of French and 53 percent of South Korean Internet users are interested in new ways of staying in contact with friends and family. The German digital avant-garde (72 percent) is also very interested in video telephony, blogs, and instant messaging, etc. (see Figure 32).
In France, Hungary and South Korea, mobile access is also highly important. For 56 percent of South Koreans surveyed, having access at any time and anywhere to services related to friends and family is crucial or very important. This compares to 51 percent of French respondents, and 44 percent of the Hungarians. In Germany today, 36 percent of Internet users value mobile access, though a look at the digital avant-garde suggests that this figure will rise in the future. Around 72 percent of this group considers mobile access to services related to friends and family important (see Figure 33).