Always on society

People increasingly expect to be able to access information and services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is due to advances in global communications and technology which have increased access to the internet, as well as altered social norms, for example more relaxed legislation on opening hours and 24-hour helpdesks. Other contributing factors are the increasing functionality and use of mobile phones to access the internet as well as telephone services: a device that is always on you as well as always on (see ubiquitous connectivity), and increased numbers of people using laptops and locations with wi-fi .

What are the implications?

  • More time spent ‘plugged in’ and online, with a potential rise in related wellbeing issues.
  • More services – including public services – available online and an expectation that services will be accessible at all times.
  • Anticipated lower demand on face-to-face public services being used to justify lower resources. However, if there is no reduction then this may lead to overload (e.g. NHS Direct refer callers to their GP).
  • Those who are digitally excluded may become even more marginalised.
  • More empowered consumers who are better informed and more demanding.
  • Expectation of instant access to news and information. 
  • Increase in online transactions at any time changing typical financial patterns, including donations (see online revenue). 
  • Increased energy consumption from round-the-clock work and leisure time online at odds with drives to lessen environmental impacts (see global resource constraints).

Moving forward

As the public expect access to information and services all the time and more and more organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors communicate online, it is important your organisation is not left behind.

  • Does your organisation have an ICT strategy in place?
  • Can you invest in ICT training for those members of your staff that do not have a high level of ICT literacy?
  • Can your organisation start to deliver more services online to compete with other organisations operating in the same area?

An ‘Always on’ society are a captive audience for VCOs, but equally your volunteers  and staff may feel they have more pressures on their ‘free’ time in an ‘always on’ society.

  • How will the ‘always on’ society impact on your workforce? Can you adapt to meet or take advantage of changing working practices? 
  • How can you ensure your staff are able to switch off?
  • How can you adapt volunteering practices to accommodate changing attitudes to time and volunteering?
  • How can your organisation harness the collaborative power of online communities to address your strategic or operational problems?  (See NCVO’s microvolunteering discussion for further discussion of this and useful tips from people who’ve tried it out)

24/7 society is often linked to affluence levels and to age, and online services risk excluding some groups.  It is therefore important that the sector continues to support and combat any possible marginalisation that may occur.

  • Does your organisation have a policy or strategy in place to ensure it accounts for any possible exclusion that online services might bring?

Want to know more?

East of England Scanning Report #2: The 24/7 society: Implications for the East of England

Published by: University of Essex

Date: 2006

Format: PDF

What is it? A paper examining the implications of living in an increasingly 24/7 society.

How useful is this? This is not focused solely on technology, but it is a useful paper for considering what the impacts of an always on society might be.  The report collates findings from several pieces of research to examine: what the 24/7 society is; its benefits and drawbacks; and contributory factors.  It also includes more focused sections on shopping and working in a 24/7 society.  Although an East of England report, only the concluding section focuses on the region, and the rest of the report is broadly reported in terms of the general UK population.

UK slogs around the clock

Published by: The Guardian

Date: 2004

Format: Web

What is it? An article discussing findings from a report on the rise of the 24 hour society by the Future Foundation think tank.

How useful is this? This article reviews an interesting report that considers the always on society as part of wider societal changes towards the 24 hour society.  It acknowledges the role that technology and globalisation have, by driving longer working hours, but sees the rise in disposable income leading to a growth in the leisure industry as the main driver of the 24 hour society.  It makes statistical predictions on how individuals will spend their time in 2020 and on what activities will be carried out over night.  It also considers both the positive and negative impacts of 24 hour living.

Other comments: The Future Foundation’s full report is: The Shape of Things to Come, funded by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The energy and monetary implications of the ‘24/7’ ‘always on’ society

Published by: Elsevier

Date: 2008

Format: PDF

What is it? A paper examining the implications of living in an increasingly 24/7 society on office and home energy consumption, consumer spending and design.

How useful is this? A good overview of key research in the area, with useful statistics on changing social trends and their environmental and/or economic implications.  Whilst focussed on consumer societies and business, there is key relevance to understanding paid employees, volunteers and individual donors.

Last updated at 11:15 Tue 08/Feb/11.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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