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Dec 21, 2007
Most wireless users admit to 'disconnect anxiety'

Canadians are so addicted to wireless devices that they actually feel anxiety and stress when disconnected from them, according to a new study.

The report, dubbed Disconnect Anxiety: And Four Reasons Why It's So Difficult to Stay Off the Grid, was conducted by the Toronto-based Solutions Research Group.

The group interviewed more than 3,000 Canadians last year for the study, and turned up some startling findings about our dependence -- or addiction -- to everything from laptops to cellphones, iTouch's and Blackberries (or 'CrackBerries', as they're known to the more seriously afflicted.)

"We're more connected, and as a result it's more difficult for us to be disconnected, even for a short period of time," Kaan Yigit, president of Solutions Research Group, told CTV.ca.

The study found:

  • 88 per cent of Canadians took their cellphone with them on vacation last year;
  • 48 per cent agreed devices like BlackBerries chain you to work more than they free you; and
  • 43 per cent of laptop owners took their computer with them on vacation last year.
Of the 19 million cellphone users in Canada, 70 per cent carry their phone with them wherever they go, and the majority of these people find it difficult to break free from their electronic leash, the study finds. When they do, many experience "disconnect anxiety," a phenomenon the study describes as "various feelings of disorientation and nervousness experienced when a person is deprived of Internet or wireless access for a period of time."

Fifty-nine per cent of Canadians, of all ages and backgrounds, experience some level of anxiety when disconnected, the study finds. Of those:

  • 26 per cent feel "significantly elevated" levels of anxiety;
  • 33 per cent exhibit above-average levels of anxiety occasionally, depending on the situation; and
  • 41 per cent are below average in their anxiety response when disconnected, with the majority of those over 50.
"What we call disconnection anxiety is not just related or confined to people with BlackBerries but it's a much broader societal trend. We see it among teens, young adults, older adults, but also seniors," Yigit said. As if to prove his point, Yigit conducted the interview on his BlackBerry from the back of a taxi, during a short break between meetings.

There are four key reasons, Yigit said, why Canadians' dependency on wireless devices shows no signs of slowing.

  • Safety: People feel the world is not as safe as it used to be, so parents are more likely to ensure their children have cell phones from a young age.
  • Work: People feel that if they're not online or close to a phone, they will be left out of the information flow. And if they do manage to disconnect for a day or two, they often return to work to face a massive backlog of emails or voicemail messages to catch up on.
  • Social life: Primarily among young people, there's a feeling that if they're disconnected and unable to take calls or check their Facebook account, they'll miss the party -- "It doesn't have to be rational, that's how they feel," Yigit says.
  • Navigational reality: People build a dependency on their cellphone or BlackBerry, using it to store their contacts, schedule and email, making it almost impossible to live without. "Without that device it's difficult to navigate my life," Yigit said.
The study also found, not surprisingly, that the number of Canadians using electronic devices has gone up exponentially. In 1998, only 34 per cent of Canadians were Internet users, and only 10 per cent of those had high-speed Internet at home. A decade later, that number has more than doubled, with 75 per cent of Canadians now boasting Internet access at home -- that amounts to 23 million Canadians. And close to 8 million Canadians use the social networking site Facebook, roughly the same number of Canadians who use instant messaging and email every day.

Yigit said the momentum shows no signs of slowing down or reaching a plateau, and he doesn't believe it will. "It's the way automobiles came in and stayed. We didn't go back to the horse and buggy," he said. "These devices will proliferate and more of us will be connected all of the time and there's no turning back."

The group has also conducted a U.S. study, but has not yet released the results. However, as a point of comparison, Yigit said 68 per cent of Americans feel some form of disconnect anxiety, compared to 59 per cent of Canadians.
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