The Study
An introduction to this study of family use of the Internet.

The Families
Feature stories reflecting the Internet's impact on study participants' lives.

The Diaries
Statistics reported by people taking part in the project.

The Researchers
Janna Q. Anderson of the Elon School of Communications and 25 student researchers compiled this study.

The Neighborhood
Details about the town of Elon, N.C. and the neighborhood in this study.

Elon University

Pew Internet & American Life Project

"Having my own Web site has many advantages. It's a great resource. At job interview, I can show someone my writing samples on the Web site that I designed. It has a few fun things on there as well, but it is mostly professional ... I could see myself in an online news career. I use the Internet so much right now, I would love to work in an industry that will directly affect me." - Allison Deiboldt

Allison Deiboldt Allison Deiboldt

Bling. Click Click Click Click Click. Bling. Laughter. Click Click Click Click. More laughter. Bling. This is the sound of Allison Deiboldt sharing a story with her brother, Kevin. Allison is in North Carolina. Kevin is in New York City. With a 10-hour drive between them, the two keep in touch on a daily basis by - no, not the telephone - it's AOL Instant Messenger.

"I have it on all the time when I'm working online at home," said Allison, a junior at Elon University. "It keeps my phone bills down, and I can still find out what is going on in my family and friends' lives."

Allison logged on to the Internet for the first time her freshman year at Elon. She now proclaims herself to be a self-taught Internet junkie, experimenting and learning all the basics on her own. "When I left for school, my computer at home still had a floppy diskÉand when I say floppy, I mean the old 5 1/2-inch floppy disk drives," laughed Allison. "I honestly don't know how I lived without the Internet for so long. It is such a big part of my life now."

Internet up and phone bills down

Her parents, Lou and Judy Deiboldt, decided to purchase an Acer K-6 300 personal computer for Allison for Christmas in 1998.

"She kept telling us how much she was using her roommate's computer and going to the computer lab first semester," remembered Lou, a sales representative for Summit Food Marketing. "We realized if we bought her a computer at that time, it would be well worth the investment in the future."

Connecting to Elon's T-1 line, Allison was able to teach herself how to navigate around the Web, use e-mail and talk to her friends and family through Instant Messenger (IM).

"There was a definite drop in my phone bill once I was able to go online in my room," said Allison. "I e-mailed my friends at school in Pennsylvania and Maryland all of the time and would talk to them on the phone just a few times a month."

During the summer after her freshman year at Elon, Allison convinced her parents to spend the $21.95 per month and sign up for America Online at their home in Lancaster, Pa.

"We realized that eventually we would need to go online," said Judy, an elementary school teacher. "At first I was nervous because I didn't understand very much about computers, but Allison helped us out a lot that summer and now I feel pretty knowledgeable."

The following year, Lou and Judy used their AOL connection to stay in touch with Allison on a daily basis through e-mail. "We know that she is always checking her e-mail, so sometimes it's just easier to write her a note than call her," said Lou. "She seems to click 'reply' better then she can dial a phone these days!"

Family members make Web pages

Karen O'Hara, Allison's aunt, made the decision to create a family Web site for Allison's mother's side of the family in 1999. Working with myfamily.com, Karen spent months collecting photos for online albums, entering special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries as well as structuring a chat room where family members could talk and share stories.

"With all of my brothers and sisters spread across the country from Florida to Arizona, I thought this would be a great way to keep in touch," said Karen. "I think that all of us have taken advantage of the Web site. There are at least 15 of us who log on and share things with each other every week."

Kevin and Allison have also developed their own personal Web sites in the past two years. Kevin, 23, uses his site for a variety of things. "I use the Web to share stories and pictures of things that are going on here in my life in New York City," explained Kevin.

Kevin brought his digital camera to two recent weddings that the family attended, and he then used the pictures to make cards for the newlywed couples. "I think it's a really great way to be able to use the pictures to make them gifts. I also put the pictures on my Web site so everyone who was at the weddings can see them as well," said Kevin.

Allison created her Web site for a requirement in her Reporting and Newswriting class this fall. Just one way she uses it is as an online portfolio for potential employers. "Having my own Web site has many advantages," she said. "It's a great resource. At job interview, I can show someone my writing samples on the Web site that I designed. It has a few fun things on there as well, but it is mostly professional."

E-mail and other uses

Today, Allison still has the Acer computer her parents bought her in her room at college. "I now use NetZero to connect to the Internet from my apartment," explained Allison. "My brother told me about it last year and I have been so happy with it. It's a free connection, and I never have trouble logging on."

Allison said she reads on average between 10 and 20 e-mails per day. Most of them are from family, friends and a group e-mail that her sorority sisters use to keep in contact with each other. "I can't sit down at a computer without checking both of my e-mail accounts," admitted Allison. She uses Elon's designated e-mail address as well as a Yahoo! e-mail slot.

"I also belong to a few music listservs as well, but those just get annoying sometimes," she admitted. "There are so many posts every day, and half the time I just end up deleting them without reading them."

Allison said she also uses the Internet for more than checking e-mail and talking to friends. "I just recently discovered online shopping," she said. "I mean, I knew it was out there, but I just started realizing how easy and fun it is."

This Christmas, she searched for gift ideas on Web sites such as Jcrew.com, VictoriasSecret.com and SteveMadden.com. She then e-mailed Judy to tell her about items and sales she saw online. "It made it so much easier for my mom to shop for me," said Allison. "She would order it online and have it gift wrapped and delivered right to our house."

Napster is another reason Allison goes online. She said that she first discovered the music downloading server her freshman year in college, but never took full advantage of it until her junior year.

"I plan to buy a CD burner so I can download the music I am listening to onto CD format," said Allison. "It is just so much cheaper than buying CDs, and I can get any song I have ever wanted to listen to in a matter of minutes."

Future thoughts about Net impact

Allison said anything goes when it comes to the future of the Internet. "We could eventually be working online and getting everything we need from the Internet," she predicted. "It wouldn't surprise me if we never needed to leave our homes!"

The young communications major said she is considering a career that involves work with the Internet and the news media. "The Internet is already impacting how we as a society view news, so what better time to become involved?" she commented. "I could see myself in an online news career. I use the Internet so much right now, I would love to work in an industry that will directly affect me."

Allison said keeping connected to the world and to her family is the greatest benefit she has received from the Internet. "I am a true believer in the power the Internet has over college students," she said. "My life has been changed by it."


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