Half of Canadians interviewed say they know someone who spends so much time surfing the Internet or playing computer games that it hurts their family life, according to a survey for release today.
There is a resonance among many Canadians that the Internet is helping to create new, virtual communities, and has the potential to improve family life", says the 99-page report. The study was paid for by several federal government departments and major telephone and cable companies.
But there are also others who see it as impersonal, dehumanizing and a distraction. Nearly one in two people polled [49 per cent] claim to personally know people who spend so much time at home using the Internet and other computer activities that it is having a negative impact on their family life", it states.
Bev Pearman, 35, of Carleton Place, just south of Ottawa, said spending time with her family is one of the reasons she has not hooked up her computer to the Internet, although she has surfed at a friend's house and at the library.
"We just don't have the time, and I don't feel like I am missing anything at all", Ms. Pearman said. "The Internet turns into a very absorbing thing."
A father in Calgary said he has witnessed a direct correlation between his nine-year-old son's falling grades in school and his increased playing of computer games. "I've told him no more computer games until he gets his marks up", he said. "This is the second time I've pulled the plug on him."
The report, entitled the Information Highway and Canadian Communication Household Wave I Survey, is based on interviews with 3,522 Canadians by Ekos Research Associates Inc. A sample of this size means that 19 times out of 20, the results will be within 1.7 percentage points of what would have been obtained if the entire population had been questioned. A 20-page executive summary of the report was obtained by The Globe and Mail.
Paul Attallah, a communications professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, said two reasons could explain why so many people feel the Internet could be hurting family life.
First, he said, the pendulum has swung from pandemonium to skepticism about the new medium; and second, the question could have skewed responses.
"I am not saying computer use isn't addictive for some people, but the number sounds surprisingly high", Prof. Attallah said. "It's part of the cycles we go through. In the 18th century, novels were considered bad, then comic books were bad, then movies, then television. Only television is still considered bad."
Rick Broadhead, co-author of the 1998 Canadian Internet Handbook, said he and Jim Carroll devoted a chapter to examining Internet addiction. "You hear about marriages breaking up and the Internet is used as the reason", Mr. Broadhead said. "But I tend to think that those marriages had a lot deeper problems than just the Internet."
Ekos's question asked people to agree or disagree with this statement: "I personally know some people who spend so much time at home using the Internet and other computer activities that it has had a negative impact on the quality of their family life."
Forty per cent strongly agreed, 9 per cent agreed, 6 per cent disagreed and 30 per cent strongly disagreed. The rest had no opinion.
The report also found that two-thirds of Canadians want the government to regulate material such as pornography on the Internet. "Despite this lean towards intervention, there are sharp divisions along gender and generational lines". the report says.
For instance, 79 per cent of seniors and 67 per cent of females under 25 wanted regulation, but 66 per cent of males under 25 thought the government has no business regulating the Internet.
The report made other findings: