Canadians are leading more and more digitally connected lives, and that's having both positive and negative implications on our well-being, a new Statistics Canada survey suggests.
The data agency said in a report Tuesday that more and more Canadians are accessing the internet on a regular basis, with 91 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 using the internet at least a couple of times every month last year.
That's up from 86 per cent three years earlier 2013, and the prevalence of the internet in people's lives gets higher depending on how young you are.
The percentage for those between the ages of 15 to 44 was over 90 per cent last year, but it was similarly high in 2013 too. Among 65- to 74-year-olds, however, internet penetration has shot up in the past three years, from 65 per cent to 81. For those over 75, usage jumped from 35 per cent to 50 per cent.
Canada's national statistics agency collected information from 19,609 Canadians between August and December of last year. The margin of error for a poll that size is plus or minus 0.7 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
People offered many ways in which technology has improved their lives, with 77 per cent noting that it helps them to communicate with others, 66 per cent saying it saves time, 52 per cent stating that it helps to make more informed decisions, and 36 per cent saying it helps them be more creative.
And Canadians are going online via a wider variety of devices, too. The overwhelming majority of 15- to 34-year-olds reported having a smartphone last year, compared with 69 per cent of those aged 55 to 64 and just 18 per cent of Canadians 75 years and older.
All in all, more than three quarters of Canadians had a smartphone last year, and having one, the data agency said "now appears to be a near-necessity for the young."
For the most part, people say their lives are better because of their increasing use of online technology. Just over three out of every five people between the ages of 15 and 65 said their life was better as a result of their use of technology. From age 65 on, it declined to just over half of those aged 65 to 74 and continued falling to a little more than a third of Canadians aged 75 and older.
But there's a downside, too. Statistics Canada says that technology "blurs the boundaries by keeping one connected at all times and in all places," and there's a price being paid in terms of Canadians work-life balance.
Between 2008 and last year, the proportion of working Canadians who were either satisfied or very satisfied with their work-life balance declined by 10 percentage points, dropping from 78 per cent to 68 per cent in that eight-year period.
"While the majority still felt positive about their ability to balance work and home, the downward trend may have implications for the well-being of Canadians," the data agency said.
Professor Linda Duxbury at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa says her research makes it clear that work-life balance "is becoming more of a problem, not less of a problem."
Technology that makes people available all the time is great for connecting people, but comes with a corresponding cost in people's personal lives in terms of burnout, she said in an interview with CBC News Tuesday.
"The problem is those kinds of technologies give people the ability to work 24/7 and depending on the organization you work for … they might be connecting 24/7, all the time."
A major problem is people's inability or reluctance to say no, she said. "We see availability as a career move and saying no as a career-limiting move, and that is yet another added pressure."
Mira Akl is one Canadian who says technology is a double-edged sword in terms of her work-life balance. "It creates an obsession that's at your fingertips," the financial services worker said of the constant stream of emails she receives on her smartphone. "But then that creates a dependency, because people around you and your clients expect that kind of quick response ... if you're not answering this quickly."
In the StatsCan report, women were slightly less likely than men to report they were happy with the balance between their working and their personal lives, with 66 per cent responding so. Among men, the ratio jumped up 70 per cent.
People with children were just as likely to say they were satisfied with their work-life balance as those without were. But just over one in five people with a job reported that they either always or often had difficulties fulfilling family responsibilities because of the amount of time they spent on their job.
"Overall," the data agency said, "14 per cent of Canadians felt that technology often interfered with other things in life."
Torontonian Michael Yhip summed up the pros and cons succinctly. "Technology helps because you're more flexible, you don't have to be at the job," he said in an interview, "but it hurts because you're working at times when maybe you shouldn't."
Duxbury's advice to phone-addicted workers is blunt: When you get home from work, "if you actually don't have the strength to shut it off, put it in a different room and don't check it," she said.
"If that causes you to lose your job, you probably didn't want that job to begin with."