Canadians are growing increasingly suspicious of the Internet and favour government regulation of cyberspace.
Women, especially mothers of young children, are leading the call for Internet control, according to findings of a year-end Citizen-Global poll of adult Canadians. When asked whether they favoured government passing laws to regulate the Internet, 66 per cent of Canadian adults said Yes. Among women in the 35-54 age group, 80 per cent favour regulation.
A new wave of Internet users has joined the original users, the "trailblazers", said Duncan Mackie, senior vice-president of POLLARA, the national polling firm that surveyed attitudes toward the Internet and other high-tech products.
"We have gone beyond the trailblazers, or first wave of users, who typically would not favour any regulation", said Mr. Mackie.
"The trailblazers were predominantly young, affluent, middle-class males but the second wave is more likely to consist of families using the Internet for information and entertainment. They are sensitive to such things as violence and pornography in other media so it isn't surprising they would be sensitive to it on the Internet."
The fact that it is technologically impossible to fully regulate the World Wide Web is no deterrent to those who want regulation, said Mr. Mackie.
"There's a moral imperative at play. People might know there are technical obstacles but they want somebody to keep trying anyway."
David Jones, president of the anti-censorship group Electronic Frontier Canada, says the poll result is disappointing but says people will change their minds about regulation the more they use the Internet.
"There is a difference between being on the Net for 6 months and 16 months", said Dr. Jones, a professor at Hamilton's McMaster University. "The more experience people have on the Net the more they appreciate its openness. They come to realize that they can make choices themselves and they don't need some bureaucrat to decide what they can see or not."
There are too many myths about the Internet, and chief among them is that the majority of its content is pornography, Dr. Jones added.
"The truth is that the vast majority of content is not porn, but if you want adult content, you can find it. What a person finds online really reflects more about an individual's personal interests than about the Internet."
Despite concerns over the seedier side of cyberspace, 52 per cent of Canadians say the Internet contains useful information and services. Another 33 per cent are more skeptical and say material on the Net is either useless or questionable.
"New users are finding the Net very frustrating", says Mr. Mackie, of POLLARA. "The Internet has been incredibly hyped and oversold and that adds to people's disappointment and frustration. They have to wait a long time and wade through a lot of junk to find something meaningful. Many are saying they might as well go back to books."
The POLLARA poll indicates most Canadians do not have access to the Internet. Sixteen per cent have access at work, 13 per cent have access at home, and 10 per cent have it in both places. Of those Canadians without a home computer, 22 per cent say they intend to buy one within a year.
Mr. Mackie says the number of Canadians with home computers - now 20 per cent - will likely be 30 per cent by the end of 1998. But computer ownership is still confined to high-earning Canadians.
A remarkable number of Canadians in all age and income groups are obviously frustrated with voice mail and say it influences where they take their business.
Eighty-nine per cent said they find voice mail less efficient than a human receptionist and 87 per cent said they are more likely to do business with companies employing humans to answer the phone.
Carleton University business school Prof. Siva Pal says Canadians' resentment toward voice mail is symptomatic of a larger problem: Technology is changing faster than people's ability to adapt.
"When we make a phone call and hear a robot talk to us", said Mr. Pal, "we not only have to deal with the aggravation of something devoid of social intercourse but often the delays cost us money. It's not surprising people are unhappy.
"But everyone will probably get used to it eventually", he added. "With the exception of some elderly people, most of us now use ATM machines quite happily."