Logging Off

Net use takes a serious hit

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The study released last week by Statistics Canada revealing that more than a quarter of all Canadians who regularly used the Internet have in the last year logged off for good should come as no surprise. Titled Better Things To Do Or Dealt Out Of The Game? Internet Dropouts And Infrequent Users, the study, available at www.statscan.ca, says 813,000 Canadian households have stopped using the Internet. Another 10.5 million people across the country have never dialled up. And a further 5 per cent only occasionally log on and then spend their time at very specific sites.

Lack of access to home computers and Luddite tendencies are major causes of the drop, but another important factor is that people simply seem to be losing interest. For anyone other than the most fanatical Web heads, this should sound familiar.

When the Web first launched, the temptation was to spend all your time online, surfing from page to page. The amount of information available was mind-boggling, so you couldn’t help staying up all night to trawl through the millions of Web pages just because you could. Those were the glory days.

Invasive advertising techniques, a decreasing novelty factor and the realization of how much crap there is out there have meant that the idea of spending hours online, even with a high-speed connection, has lost a lot of its appeal.

Ask those who still use the Internet and most would probably admit they spend more time floating than surfing.

I’m logged on almost all day long, but my Internet use is restricted to a collection of specific sites. Whether it’s newspapers, research, eye-scorching time-wasters or downloading free music, I tend to know exactly where I’m going.

My unsightly list of bookmarks ranges from Web radio stations and soccer sites to weblogs, recipe sites, mail-order shops and a handful of music news sources and wire servers. It’s long and a bit too unorganized for my liking, but it sums up most of my time on the Web.

Links passed on by friends, random addresses and the tangential meandering that once defined life online still entertain me, but more and more rarely, it seems.

It’s hard to imagine living without the Web, but when I do — on holidays and weekends out of town — I also don’t really miss it.

Does this mean that I, and the 5 per cent of Canadians who surf selectively, are getting bored with the Internet? Far from it.

The sites I love — including www.bbc.co.uk, www.audiogalaxy.com, www.guardian.co.uk and www.football.sports.com — I visit several times each day. What the study shows is that people are becoming more selective about their Internet use, and because of that the Internet is becoming more refined as a tool.

There are still thousands of mindless sites launched every day worth a peek, but after years of messing around, people are finally beginning to use the Net for what it was invented for — to save time rather than waste it. mattg@nowtoronto.com

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