New imec.digimeter: Six in ten Flemings impose rules on themselves to control smartphone use

LEUVEN, 24 January 2018 – According to the new imec.digimeter report, the end of the digibesity phenomenon is not yet in sight. The latest figures – based on a survey of more than 2,300 Flemish people – show that the use of digital services is booming, and digital dependency is rising, especially among those in their 20s and 30s. However, Flemings appear to be aware of the presence and effects of digibesity, with six in ten smartphone users spontaneously imposing rules on themselves to keep smartphone use under control. However, they also admit that doing so is difficult in practice. This is why imec.digimeter researchers have expanded their study this year with a ‘Mobile DNA’ app that allows respondents to map out their media usage in detail. These new insights form the basis of their ongoing research.

An explosion of digital (and paid) services: smartphones and computers prove indispensable

“An initial and striking observation made by the new imec.digimeter study is that the simultaneous use of digital services continues to boom,” says Lieven De Marez, the driving force behind imec.digimeter research and professor with mict, an imec-UGent research group. “Netflix (from 15% penetration in 2016 to 21% in 2017), WhatsApp (from 25% to 31%), YouTube (from 48% to 54%) and Instagram (from 25% to 30%) experienced strong growth. It is also worth noting that more people are making use of paid services. The rising popularity of Netflix is one example of this trend, and 19% of respondents stated that they pay for online music via streaming or downloading services (+6% compared to 2016).”

The way in which the Fleming uses these services evolving – with the smartphone and laptop/computer appearing to win the argument. Although almost everybody has access to multiple screens at home (from game consoles and computers to smartphones, tablets and TVs), imec.digimeter respondents indicated that they find their smartphones (37%) and computers (24%) the most indispensable. This label is applied much less frequently to the TV set (12%) and the tablet (6%). These differences are even more pronounced among people in their 20s: 54% indicate that the smartphone is their most indispensable device.

Digital applications have penetrated deeply into our private lives

“Along with the increasing use of digital applications, dependency also increases,” observes Bart Vanhaelewyn, researcher at imec and imec.digimeter data analyst. “An increasing number of people conclude that they spend too much time on social media: that number increased to 34% of imec.digimeter respondents in 2017 – with outliers among teenagers (52%), those in their 20s (56%) and those in their 30s (42%). In addition to those in their 20s (31%) and 30s (also 31%), respondents feel pressured to stay in contact with their workplaces through the use of new digital applications. As many as 41% of Flemings surveyed believe that digital applications have penetrated deeply into their personal lives – with 20-year-olds (51%) and 30-year-olds (50%) the most convinced.”

Six in ten Flemings impose rules on themselves to control smartphone use

Professor De Marez also notes that more people are trying to handle digital services in a more conscious, ‘media-wise’ manner. They spontaneously impose rules on themselves to keep their smartphone use under control.

“Six in ten smartphone users surveyed do this – a significant increase (+6%) over last year. And again, we see a peak among those in their 20s (69%) and 30s (68%). The most common tricks they use are: blocking smartphones during conversations, meetings and lessons (36%), disabling notifications (26%) and putting smartphones away while driving (22%),” he says. “But in practice, it remains difficult to control this activity.”

Getting started with the unique ‘Mobile DNA’ app

“Based on the insights we’ve gathered over the last several years, we would like to offer respondents in 2018 an extra tool that enables them to map their personal media use in an objective scientific way, and connect it with a number of concrete actions. This is achieved through our ‘Mobile DNA’ app, which will be launched within the context of the broader ‘Kop Op’ (‘Heads Up’) campaign. The app – the first of its kind worldwide – will be available for free to Android users as of January 25th. It will monitor users’ media use for two weeks and then display the data gathered in a personal DNA profile that they can use to get started on their own,” concludes Lieven De Marez.

Download the full digimeter 2017 report


About imec.digimeter

The imec.digimeter report is an initiative of imec.livinglabs and its research within the Media, Innovation and Communication Technologies(mict) department, an imec research group at UGent. It is produced on the basis of self-reported data gathered through a survey administered to a statistically representative group of Flemish people (age 15 and up) since 2009. The data is used within the framework of independent scientific research and is not released for commercial purposes.

Discover more about imec.digimeter

About imec

Imec is the world’s leading research innovation hub in the field of nanoelectronics and digital technology. The combination of our pioneering role in microchip technology and our software and ICT expertise makes us unique. Imec has a unique infrastructure and a local and international ecosystem of partners in various sectors. Together, we work on groundbreaking innovations in application domains such as healthcare, smart cities and mobility, logistics and Industry 4.0, energy and education.

Imec is a trusted partner of companies, start-ups and universities, bringing together almost 3,500 top scientists from more than 70 countries. Imec is headquartered in Leuven, with R&D groups spread over a number of Flemish universities and in the Netherlands, Taiwan, the US, China, and has offices in India and Japan. In 2016, imec’s operating income amounted to 496 million euros. More information at

Imec is a registered trademark of the activities of IMEC International (a legal entity set up under Belgian law as a "stichting van openbaar nut”), imec Belgium (IMEC vzw supported by the Flemish Government), imec the Netherlands (Stichting IMEC Nederland, part of Holst Centre which is supported by the Dutch Government), imec Taiwan (IMEC Taiwan Co.) and imec China (IMEC Microelectronics (Shanghai) Co. Ltd.) and imec India (Imec India Private Limited), imec Florida (IMEC USA nanoelectronics design center).


Hanne Degans, Press Officer, +32 16 28 17 69 // +32 486 06 51 75 //

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