Two-thirds (65 per cent) of the UK population say they have a sense of belonging to a digital community. This compares to the fewer than half (44 per cent) who feel they belong to their local community.

The study, commissioned by PC World , highlights the fundamental importance of the internet as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family on a regular basis. The findings also demonstrate the impact of the rapid shift in the use of the PC, which has transformed from a business worktool to a multi-functional device at the heart of the home in a generation.

"This study confirms that where friendships are concerned, 'over the net' is now as important as 'over the fence' in our lives," said Keith Jones, managing director of PC World Stores Group.

"There is no question that technology offers new and exciting ways to create and sustain friendships, alongside our traditional relationships with trusty neighbours with their cup of sugar.

"Many local communities are also increasingly adopting the digital trend, with local services becoming increasingly digitised, enabling us to spend less time queuing and more time with our families. This has enormous social benefits for all of us, as we become increasingly time-poor," he added.

Internet now main source of advice

The study, carried out by YouGov, found that millions of Britons are now using the internet, often more so than their local community, to meet people and seek advice. Almost half (43 per cent) turn to the internet for help and advice and a similar proportion (46 per cent) log on to interact with other people.

In contrast, only 15 per cent of the 10,000 respondents participate in local activities or events and only one in 20 turns to the surrounding community for help and advice.

"These findings mark a sea change in the role of the PC and prove beyond question that our growing reliance on technology is redrawing the social map of the UK," Keith Jones said.

"In less than a generation, the PC and internet access have moved to the heart of the connected home and have had a fundamental impact on the way that we communicate with friends and family, with our communities now extending throughout the world.

"With the PC celebrating its 25th anniversary, digital citizenship is rapidly redefining our sense of society," he added.

New home installation service

PC World has recently launched a major new home installation service, The Connected Home. The service is designed to provide customers with a professional consultancy service advising customers on the best ways to connect their home with various digital and wireless technologies.

It is a sourcing and home installation service for digital technology, with PC home cinema systems available from £2,000 including consultancy, advice and installation.

Stores in Staples Corner, Birmingham and soon London's Tottenham Court Road will showcase the latest in home computing technology and offer advice on how to set up a PC-run home. Anna Lagerkvist