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The average online Canadian now spends more time on the Internet than watching television, according to a new survey from Ipsos Reid, a shift in digital habits that reflects the increasing prevalence of computers in our lives.

This survey, its author says, marks a closing of the gap between a younger generation that has always spent a significant amount of their leisure time on computers and an older generation that used to rely on "old" media. Canadians who access the Internet now spend more than 18 hours a week online, compared to just under 17 hours watching television.

Although those aged 55 and over were still more likely to spend a longer time watching TV than younger generations, Canadians as a whole were spending more time online for the first time, Ipsos said.

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"In previous years we've seen significant differences between the generations and the amount of time they spend online," said Mark Laver of Ipsos in a release.

"The data indicates that not only are people of all ages spending more and more time online, but it also points to a shift in how online Canadians are consuming media and where they are spending their free time."

Other surveys, from Neilsen and comScore, have shown previously that online video-viewing and time spent Web browsing have increased over the years. And previous Ipsos research shows that there is a prevalence of multitasking: Having the TV on while also using a laptop.

Industry watchers, however, cautioned the Ipsos results should not be taken as some wholesale shift away from the type of content produced by "old media," and that this survey's results simply trace an evolution of how we seek and receive information.

"It can be kind of confusing when we try and set these media up against each other," said Sidney Eve Matrix, a media professor at Queen's University. "If you're trying to separate time spent on the Internet from time spent watching television, that's a bit misleading... The Internet is a multimedia world. We consume our newspapers on the Web."

Kaan Yigit, who follows digital trends with Toronto-based Solutions Research Group, said the survey's broad conclusions mesh with what he's seen in the Canadian digital landscape.

"I think it's true that there is greater engagement with online, no question there," Mr. Yigit wrote in an e-mail. "Our tracking shows higher participation in social media compared to last year, more online video use, more online TV use - and more people saying they find online more entertaining than before."

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Ironically, Mr. Yigit noted, the scales tipping in the Internet's favour could be the result of more TV networks hosting their broadcasting content online, for free. However, viewership numbers for Vancouver's Winter Olympics and the Academy Awards are reminders that people are tuning in.

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