The Canadian Internet Registration Authority has released its 2014 Factbook, and it’s full of interesting statistics. One of the stronger points the report drives home is the digital divide that’s happening in Canada, where “only 62 per cent of Canadians in the lowest income quartile have internet access, compared with 95 per cent of Canadians in the highest income quartile.”
The report also stresses how behind e-commerce is in Canada, with fewer than half of businesses having websites and online spending well below countries such as the United Kingdom. It’s fascinating reading for anyone who’s interested – you can check it out here.
The Factbook does skew some things with its methodologies, though, like its inclusion of New Zealand in the top 10 countries in the world for internet penetration. That may well be technically true, but if it’s broadband we’re talking about and not dial-up, New Zealand certainly isn’t a world leader by any stretch of the imagination. The country’s poor status by that measure consumed the government’s and public’s attention in my time there just a few years ago. Things have improved recently, but the country still ranks a firm middle-of-the-pack among developed countries, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
It’s that sort of discrepancy that made me look at the report a little more closely. As it happens, the one finding that really bugs me is the repetition of the old saw that Canadians are world leaders in internet usage, like that’s some sort of triumph to be proud of. According to the Factbook, Canadians spend an average of 41.3 hours online, second only to Americans and their 43 hours, and just slightly ahead of Brits and their 38.9 hours. Following those top three are the likes of Russia, France and Germany.
Eagle-eyed observers may spot a similarity between the top three: they’re all (primarily) English-speaking countries. CIRA’s stats come from comScore, which somehow seems to omit a few other Anglo places in the world. Average monthly internet use in Australia, for example, is almost 39 hours a month, while Irish adults are spending about 48 hours online, which tops Americans, Canadians and Brits. If those two countries are added in, a very clear picture emerges: the five heaviest internet-using nations are all English-speaking.
Could this be because a huge chunk of the internet is in English? Why indeed it is. One estimate figures there are about 565 million English-speaking users of the internet, followed closely by 509 million Chinese speakers, which together account for about half of everyone online. Things drop off dramatically after that, with only about 164 million Spanish speakers and 99 million Japanese speakers, and so on.
I’ve written before about how Canadians’ high usage of the internet isn’t anything special, it’s merely a reflection of the fact that we speak English and that much of cyberspace is in fact in the same language. Canadians don’t have any special genes or in-born conditions that make them gravitate online more than any other average denizens of Earth. We just happen to speak the lingo.