Canada trails developing world in ‘mobile revolution’

Posted: October 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

Canadians are experiencing a bit of lag when it comes to embracing social networking, according to a new global study that says more and more people in the developing world are using their cellphones to go online.

Billed as the “largest ever global research project into people’s online activities,” the survey was commissioned by research company TNS.

It found that online users in developing and newly industrialized countries — such as China, Brazil and India — are much more likely to have a blog, share photographs online, and rely on social-networking websites, such as Facebook, instead of email to stay connected.

The findings of the survey, conclude that “mature markets” — developed economies, such as Canada, the U.S., and Japan — are less willing participants in the great digital experiment than their developing-world counterparts.

Only 27% of Canadian respondents, for example, said they had written a blog post or submitted an entry in an online forum, whereas 88% of China’s online population and 51% of Brazil’s said they had.

The digital divide also appears in a reluctance to share personal photographs, with 60% of Canadian respondents saying they do so, compared with 92% in Thailand and 88% in Malaysia.

Canadians still prefer email to social networking, the survey suggests, as respondents logged 5.1 hours a week in their inboxes and 3.8 hours on social networking sites. In “rapid-growth markets” such as Latin America or China, the numbers are reversed: 5.2 hours a week for social networking, and four hours for email.

The gulf widens when the platform shifts to cellphones, which have taken hold in developing countries at a much higher rate than inCanada. On average, global users reported spending 3.1 hours a week visiting social networking sites on their cellphones, and 2.2 hours checking email. Canadians, however, spent just 1.8 hours on the latter and 1.7 on the former.

That Canadians are behind much of the world when it comes to shifting their online behaviour to cellphones doesn’t surprise Sidneyeve Matrix, a media studies professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

Part of it is generational, Ms. Matrix said. The populations of countries such as Brazil and Indonesia are, by and large, far younger than in Canada or the United States. With a greater proportion of youth, a country’s willingness to embrace new technologies and media is magnified.

Also, Ms. Matrix said, the “exorbitantly expensive” fees attached to data packages in cellphone contracts prevent more Canadians from shifting all their online activities to their phones.

“In developing nations, they’re more apt to use cellphones and that kind of connectivity, rather than use a laptop or desktop,” because of affordability, she said.

But avoiding the “mobile revolution” in favour of tried-and-tested technologies comes with peril, said Matrix.

“Access to multimedia information while on-the-go is critically important for professionals’ productivity and businesses’ competitive edge,” she said.

“So too is it integral for the next generation of Canadians to have access to smart mobile technologies to hone their digital literacies before they enter the workplace.”

Digital Life, published Sunday, interviewed nearly 50,000 people in countries representing 88% of the world’s population.


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