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How fun online is eating into work and sleep (and parties and prayer)

These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, Oct. 28, 2013.

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Time lost
Having fun on the Internet is increasingly eating into time spent on work and play.

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If you stopped to think about just how much time, as economist Scott Wallsten of Washington's Technology Policy Institute did, you'd realize it's a lot.

In a lengthy working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research in the United States, Mr. Wallsten calculates the "crowdout" impact of leisure time spent on the Internet, based on the American Time Use Survey.

The biggest impact in the U.S., he finds, is on time spent working, time spent on leisure, and time spent on "personal care," which includes sleep.

"Estimating the value of the Internet is difficult in part not just because many online activities do not require monetary payment, but also because these activities may crowd out other, offline, activities," Mr. Wallsten says.

"That is, many of the activities we do online, like reading the news or chatting with friends, we also did long before the Internet existed," he adds in the paper.

"The economic value created by online activities, therefore, is the incremental value beyond the value created by the activities crowded out."

He found that each minute of "online leisure" costs 0.29 of a minute from other forms of leisure, such as watching TV, socializing offline, relaxing, thinking, partying and listening to the radio.

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Each minute also costs 0.27 of a minute working and 0.12 of a minute sleeping.

You can translate that into seconds, but I prefer the way The Washington Post's Caitlin Dewey did it, in 10-minute bites.

That means 10 minutes online takes 2.7 minutes from work, 2.9 minutes for other leisure activities, and 1.2 minutes for personal care, which, again, includes sleeping.

Ms. Dewey also roughed out the cost for the average American leisure Internet user, at 100 minutes a day online: Almost half an hour of work and play, and 12 minutes of sleep.

There is no comparable study for Canada. But, Statistics Canada reported today, some 83 per cent of Canadians 16 and older are using the Internet, by last count.

And, it says, more than 30 per cent of those online are there for 10 or more hours a week. That rises to 50 per cent among the 16-to-24 crowd.

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After reading Mr. Wallsten's paper and reports such as Ms. Dewey's over the weekend, I can't stop thinking of  Internet addicts as being unproductive, tired and dishevelled. Not to mention living in something of a hovel (household activities at 0.07 of a minute), being out of shape (sports at 0.04 of a minute), and praying less (religion at 0.015 of a minute). And, no, there's no mention of sex, though 0.014 of a minute is lost in the "unknown" category.

E-commerce on rise
E-commerce is rising sharply in Canada, according to the latest study of online purchases by Statistics Canada.

Canadian shoppers ordered almost $19-billion worth of goods and services last year, marking an increase of 24 per cent from the previous survey in 2010.

Among those shopping online, 58 per cent used the Internet for travel arrangements, and 52 per cent for tickets to events. Some 18 per cent used the Web to buy food, groceries and drinks, up from just 11 per cent in 2010.

"The two main reasons identified by Internet users who did not make an online purchase were a preference to shop in person (30 per cent), and having no interest (31 per cent) in shopping online," Statistics Canada said today.

"Not only are Canadians buying online, almost one-quarter (23 per cent) sold items online, either through online auction sites or other means," the federal agency added.

Some other findings:

  • Some 83 per cent of Canadians over the age of 16 used the Internet for personal use, up from 80 per cent. Seniors joined the online crowd in force.
  • The highest online usage was found in Kelowna, Regina and Victoria, followed by Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
  • There’s still a marked “digital divide” as lower income earners lag.
  • Social media gained in popularity, while instant messaging declined.
  • Online viewing of movies, video clips and TV programs climbed, as did music sales.

Notably, mobile computing surged. Some 58 per cent of those online went in using a wireless device, up from 2010's 33 per cent.

Key this week
Get ready for an eventful week on the markets. From the economy to corporate earnings, there's a lot to digest.

Where the latter is concerned, Apple Inc. will kick off the week with its quarterly results after markets close today.

Then there's Enbridge and LinkedIn tomorrow, Chrysler, Facebook and Suncor Energy on Wednesday, Exxon Mobil, Barrick Gold, Bombardier, Fairfax Financial, Imperial Oil, TransAlta and Valeant on Thursday, and SNC-Lavalin on Friday.

On the economic calendar, another reading of U.S. home prices is on tap for Tuesday, the Federal Reserve's policy statement on Friday, and Statistics Canada's report on how the economy fared in August, on Thursday.

As The Globe and Mail's Kevin Carmichael reports, the U.S. central bank isn't expected to do much of anything. But markets will be looking for signals on the time-line for pulling back on its quantitative easing program.

In Canada, Thursday's report on gross domestic product is expected to show economic growth slowing in August to about 0.2 per cent from 0.6 per cent in July.

The BlackBerry auction
If you're trying to keep track of who's in and who's out of the auction for BlackBerry Ltd., SAP AG now appears to be out.

"BlackBerry doesn't fit with our strategy," chief financial officer Werner Brandt said in an interview with Euro am Sonntag, a German magazine.

SAP had been one of the industry players said to be looking at BlackBerry, which has signed a letter of intent to sell to a consortium led by Canada's Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. for $4.7-billion (U.S.).

Other interested parties include co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, U.S. private equity player Cerberus, and former Apple Inc. chief John Sculley.

Several other potential suitors are also interested, including BlackBerry co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, private equity firm Cerberus, and former Apple Inc. chief John Sculley.

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About the Author
Report on Business News Editor

Michael Babad is a Report on Business editor and co-author of three business books. He has been with Report on Business for several years, and has also been a reporter and editor at The Toronto Star, The Financial Post and United Press International. His articles have appeared in major newspapers around the world. More


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