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People find plenty of time for Internet -- at work

(MoneyWatch) Conventional wisdom suggests that as we spend more time on the Internet, we also spend less time on face-to-face interaction and other traditional kinds of socializing. But a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that these online hours come less at the expense of family and friends than they do from another source: people's jobs. 

The study, by Scott Wallsten of the Technology Policy Institute, a research organization that focuses on innovation, found that Internet users carve 27 percent of the time they spend online out of productive work hours. By comparison, people spend 15 percent of their time on the web instead of watching television, while 12 percent comes from sleep. Other activities that lose a little ground to social networking and other Internet activities: travel, household activities, education, relaxing, and "thinking."

The research is based on data derived from an annual federal survey on how Americans say they spend their time.

Such conclusions make intuitive sense. Most "knowledge workers," as the growing number of people who work with information are called, have easy access to the Internet and social media apps throughout the work day. And even if such sites are blocked on corporate PCs, they're still readily available on personal smartphones.

The Harvard Business Review takes issues with some aspects of the study, such as the fact that not all of the categories are well defined. For example, the watching TV bucket includes watching Netflix, which is actually more time online.

Still, there's little doubt that time spent online does appear to have some impact on the time we spend on work -- perhaps for the better. Some research suggests that taking regular breaks to surf the web results in workers who feel less tired and more engaged in their work.

The bottom line is that raw clock time is a poor indicator of office effectiveness. Studies showing that employees take time from the work day to go online fail to consider the therapeutic aspects of these breaks, which likely increase productivity.

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