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What makes Canadians spend more time online?

Left to right: Jason Campbell, Christina Campbell and 17-month-old Ava Campbell in Toronto use Skype to keep in touch with family on July 24, 2009.

Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail/della rollins The Globe and Mail

Could it be the cold winters that drive us inside or the vast expanses that keep our families divided?

Whatever the cause, an irrefutable trend was reinforced in 2010: Nobody spends more time online than Canadians.

From Statistics Canada to the CRTC to the private online data crunching firm, comScore Inc., study after study released this year shows Canadians spend more time surfing than people from any other country. The most specific and comparable numbers, released by comScore in April, showed the average online Canadians spent 42 hours a month surfing, compared with 30 hours for Americans.

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While there's no shortage of data documenting the trend, there has been little study to explain exactly why we spend up to 50 per cent more time online than people in the United States, United Kingdom or Australia.

"Nobody has the answer to that question," says Sidney Eve Matrix, a professor at Queen's University who teaches courses in mass communications and digital and social media. "Everybody has the statistics, but nobody has a firm answer to the question, 'Why, why, why, why?' "

Many have theories for the phenomenon, however. Prof. Matrix suggests high levels of education and digital literacy in Canada may be part of the explanation. She notes that most children in Canada are exposed to computers and the Internet from their earliest school years. She describes Canadians as "infovores" who spend much of their time online perusing news websites.

"There is no one big factor that will explain why but a number of smaller factors," according to Kaan Yigit, a new-media analyst and president of Solutions Research Group in Toronto. He needs only a moment to rattle off a half dozen of them.

Mr. Yigit says Canada has good broadband service that is reasonably affordable compared with many countries - a fact that is often disputed by subscribers who look with envy to some extremely low-cost countries abroad.

Mr. Yigit says Canadians also suffer from high levels of isolation. Whether they live in rural areas, are separated across six time zones or are newcomers from abroad, loneliness is assuaged by chatting on Skype and engaging in social media like Facebook (Canadians were massive early adopters).

"We are cheap," Mr. Yigit adds with a laugh, pointing out that Canadians spend fewer of their entertainment dollars on music, DVDs and HD TVs than Americans and spend more time on YouTube. "The Internet is a good source of cheap entertainment."

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And then there are the winters. "Cold winters make us a little more homebound than average and the computer the perfect companion," Mr. Yigit says.

Adds Prof Matrix: "Maybe we stay inside and get bored. I know I'd rather sit around and connect with my friends on Facebook than drive in extreme weather [to see them.]rdquo;

Canadian web usage by the numbers

Number 1

Canadians log in an average of 42 hours a month, far more than any other country. They also dominate use of certain sites: Canadians rank first for frequency of use in online banking, Wikipedia and YouTube.

4.4 hours

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Canadians may visit YouTube more frequently than any other nationals, but the Germans stay longer. Canadians spend an average of 4.4 hours a month watching YouTube, less than Germans (5.2 hours) but much more than Australians (2.7).


The percentage of Canadian households with land line broadband.


The percentage of Canadian households that could get broadband land line Internet. Access is highest in the Maritime provinces (100 per cent of households) and lowest in Newfoundland (78 per cent.)


Where Canada ranks internationally for household Internet penetration, according to a United Nations agency.

First and Last

When compared to the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Australia, Canada ranked first in 2009 for household broadband penetration. Canada was last in mobile wireless data subscriptions.

Sources: CRTC, The Canadian Press, comScore Inc., Statistics Canada, the International Telecommunication Union

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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