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Online Activities Crowding Out Socializing, Relaxing

Online Activities Crowding Out Socializing, Relaxing

Wallsten Also Finds Online Video Cutting into TV Time, but Slowly

Contact: Amy Smorodin
(202) 828-4405

November 18, 2011 – Online leisure time is beginning to crowd out other, offline activities such as socializing, relaxing and watching traditional television, finds Scott Wallsten in “What Are We Not Doing When We’re Online?” released today by the Technology Policy Institute. Leisure time spent watching online video appears to be taking the place of traditional television viewing, albeit not rapidly or as ubiquitously as some have claimed. In addition, younger people are rapidly abandoning email and replacing it with texting and social networking applications.

Wallsten, TPI Senior Fellow and Vice President for Research, analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey to determine how online leisure is substituting for other leisure activities, to what extent and how online activities are evolving. Wallsten’s research reveals:

  • On average, 12 minutes per day is spent using a computer for leisure activities. However, this average is deceptive because a small share of the population, just over 11%, reports using a computer for leisure on a typical day. Those who do report any leisure time online spent about 100 minutes per day.
  • Both the share of the population reporting spending leisure time online and the total time spent online have been increasing since 2008.
  • Each minute of online leisure, on net, crowds out .27 minutes of offline leisure. This suggests that online leisure is spent either in place of non-leisure activities or is being done simultaneously with other leisure activities.
  • U.S. households watched approximately 158 hours of traditional television per month and only 29 hours of online video. These figures have the potential to change quickly, however. The amount of time watching traditional television has increased 22 minutes per month over the past year while time watching online video has increased by over an hour per month.
  • Social networking and possibly texting are impacting how much online leisure time is spent using e-mail. Time spent using e-mail by the youngest group (ages 15-17) decreased by more than 60 percent to 2.8 minutes per day in 2010. The only group that showed a consistent increase in time spent on personal e-mail is people age 55-64, who spent 4.2 minutes on e-mail in 2010.

Wallsten concludes that as more leisure time is spent online, it has the potential for economic impact. This is especially true for video delivery services and traditional television. Since online video is a close substitute for television, more consumers viewing content online a la carte, or without traditional subscription models, could greatly impact the current bundled distribution used for traditional television. The increased bandwidth use as more video is viewed online could also have implications for network investment and peering and transit arrangements. In addition, the rising popularity of social networking, coupled with decreasing socializing offline, also produces an economic impact by turning a non-market activity into a monetizable market activity.

What Are We Not Doing When We’re Online?” is available on the TPI website. The paper is the first in a series concerning the movement of leisure time to online activities.

The Technology Policy Institute

The Technology Policy Institute is a non-profit research and educational organization that focuses on the economics of innovation, technological change, and related regulation in the United States and around the world. More information is available at https://techpolicyinstitute.org/.

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