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What do you miss out on when you're online?

Categories: Community, Science & Technology

 Have you noticed any changes in the way you spend your leisure time thanks to the internet? (Ron Nickel/Getty) For the average Canadian, going online is an indispensable part of daily life. We use the web to communicate, entertain ourselves, keep up with the news, and access information about almost anything our hearts desire. 

But for all that we've gained from the internet, how much has it taken away from us?

New research from economist Scott Wallsten of the Technology Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., attempts to answer that question by contrasting the amount of "online leisure time" an average person spends today against traditional leisure activities.

Wallsten concludes that for every hour the average American spends engaged in online leisure activities, they now give up approximately: 

  • 16 minutes of work,
  • seven minutes of sleep and 
  • 17 minutes of other types of activities, such as socializing and performing housework. 

Activities Americans are devoting less time to in favour of spending their leisure time online. (Scott Wallsten/NBER/Quartz)

The study draws upon the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which has been studying the way Americans spend their time since 2003.

The ATUS shows that while the total amount of time people spend on leisure has remained relatively constant between 2003 and 2011, the average amount of minutes per day spent using a computer for the same purpose has gone up.

The survey suggests that the average American now devotes approximately 13 minutes per day to online leisure, though Wallsten notes that "this average is deceptively low in part not just because it does not include time spent doing email, watching videos, and gaming, but also because it is calculated across the entire population."

Young internet users, for instance, are likely to spend more time using the internet for recreational purposes. 

His paper, titled What Are We Not Doing When We're Online, was published recently in the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The amount of time average Americans spend using the web for leisure has increased steadily since 2008. (Scott Wallsten/NBER/Quartz)

The amount of time spent socializing offline, however, has been declining. (Scott Wallsten/NBER/Quartz)

Wallsten is careful in his research to differentiate between work-related activities like email, and online leisure activities such as social networking. Additionally, the ATUS doesn't account for multitasking behavior.

Still, Wallsten writes that one of the most hard-hit areas for those who do spend time socializing online is the time they spend socializing offline.

"Offline leisure activities that involve interacting with other people are crowded out by online leisure: attending parties and attending cultural events and going to museums are all negatively correlated with online leisure," he writes. "In short, these results based on ATUS data suggest that a cost of online activity is less time spent with other people."

Have you noticed any changes in the ways you spend your leisure time thanks to the internet? Share your thoughts and stories below.


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