An introduction to this study of family use of the Internet.
"Occasionally, Mom will send us all an e-mail to remind us of
things. Dad also forwards us e-mails from family and friends. I
can't imagine how people communicated before. E-mail is the greatest invention of
Rich Guarino doesn't quite remember what year the family signed online, probably five to seven years ago, he said. But his daughter, Jennifer, 20, said she has a vivid memory of the day she used a Macintosh PowerBook 170 with a black-and-white screen to connect with AOL for the first time.
"I had begged Dad for a while to get us signed online, and finally one Saturday afternoon he caved to the pressure," Jennifer said. "We used the PowerBook on a countertop in the basement. I remember sitting on a stool trying to come up with a screen name."
Rich, Sharon, Jennifer and Kristin Guarino have upgraded a few computers since then. But they are holding on to the 10 Mhz, clunky gray laptop because Jennifer saw a similar computer in the Newseum in Washington, D.C. "It amazes me that something in my life could already be a collectors' item," Jennifer said.
The Guarinos are loyal Macintosh users. "Macs are great," Jennifer said. "They are so easy to use, once you understand their set-up." Rich said he wouldn't change the family computer to a PC "for Mom's sake."
They now have a Macintosh Performa with an Internet connection in Sharon's home office and a Macintosh Quadra with no Net connection in Kristin's room.
The one PC in the house is banished to the basement. The custom-built PC, with a Pentium II processor, is Rich's company computer. Rich and Jennifer have laptops. Jennifer's is a Macintosh G3 PowerBook, which travels between home and school. Rich's laptop is a Toshiba Satellite, used for mainly for work projects and personal things, like preparing digital photographs and soccer line-ups. When using the laptops at home they connect to a phone line in the basement playroom.
They're an AOL family
AOL was chosen as the Guarinos' ISP due to its convenience, reliability and price. "I can get to AOL anywhere in the U.S.," Rich said. "It is usually available and works OK. I couldn't say that a couple years ago, however." It's a relatively cheap service, he said, at $21.95 a month.
Rich pays for two AOL service contracts each month. He decided AOL would be a great Christmas gift for his father, who lives in Florida. "He was having financial troubles, and had given up the service as a cost-cutting measure," Rich said. "He enjoyed being 'connected' and it is an easier way of communicating with him than USPS (United States Postal Service) or telephone." Grandpa Guarino is computer-savvy. He even creates birthday and Christmas gift tags for the whole family using the technology.
E-mail never seems to fail
The Guarinos love e-mail. They use it to communicate for work and with each other. "Occasionally, Mom will send us all an e-mail to remind us of things," Jennifer said. "Dad also forwards us e-mails from family and friends. I can't imagine how people communicated before."
E-mail is the main method Rich communicates for work. Rich has his own company, a management consulting firm. He also is a co-owner of another consulting firm. Each day when Rich heads to work, he goes to the offices of the City of Winston-Salem. He has worked on consulting projects there covering every department, from storm-water management to the area handling the city's snow- and ice-fighting equipment.
"I check my e-mail once in the morning as I start my day; throughout the business day, probably every 15 minutes when working at my desk and once at the end of the day," Rich said. On a normal day, he receives four to eight personal, five to 20 business and 20 to 30 project-related e-mails.
Kristin, a high school senior, says she checks her e-mail twice a day at least: once when she gets home from school and once before she goes to bed. "I check my mail more if I forget to look up some school stuff," she said. She averages five or more e-mails a day.
Kristin occasionally goes downstairs in the middle of the night and signs onto AOL. "When I can't sleep and everyone else is asleep, I can write e-mails about what I'm thinking right then, so I don't have to worry about forgetting things," she said.
Jennifer checks her mail frequently during the day, if not in her dorm room, from work or the computer labs on campus. Her computer stays on all day, with the e-mail in box open. "E-mail is the greatest invention of my lifetime," she said. Most days she receives 10 e-mails from her parents, sister, friends from home and professors.
"I am so connected to my community at home," Jennifer said. "E-mail has allowed me to keep up with the joys and sorrows of my family and friends." Just last week, she received an e-mail from a former employer regarding the death of a co-worker. "Some days e-mail comes quicker than I can reply," Jennifer said. "A weekend away from the computer can be so refreshing."
Sharon definitely caught the e-mail bug. "I used to get a bunch of joke e-mails that would fill my mailbox," she said. "I used to save e-mails to the hard drive until I could read them, but I never got around to reading them." But e-mail isn't just for fun; Sharon uses it to communicate with PTA volunteers.
In her role as the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools PTA Council president, Sharon is in contact with hundreds of volunteers in the area. She uses e-mail to call meetings and to pass along information. "I hated calling everyone, because everyone had something they wanted to talk about," she said. "They would forget that I had dozens of people to call."
A great information resource
Kristin will attend Appalachian State University next year. She used the Internet to do college searches while in the research phase of this important life decision.
Sharon and Kristin traveled all over looking at campuses, from Lenior-Rhyne College to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington during Kristin's spring break last year. "I used the Internet to request information about campus tours," she said.
She also registered for the SAT online. "It was so much faster and easier," she said. "And so much smarter than dealing with guidance people." Kristin was frustrated with the number of Scan-tron bubbles she had to fill in before she could mail in the registration. "After getting my first form in late, and having to drive to Rockingham, I registered online and got to take the SAT in Winston," she said.
Working with the Internet
The Internet has been a major part of Rich's work. He and two of his colleagues began a consulting company called The Process Group in 1995.
"It started out as a 'virtual company,' transitioning to a classical bricks-and-mortar company and then back again," Rich explained. The Process Group had office space for four years, closing it all up in 2000. "We now operate a 27-person consulting firm without any hardened office space or facilities," Rich said. "We are 100-percent mobile, and use the Internet for our e-mail, voice-mail and data communication."
"We were a leader in virtual company stuff, but our prospective clients didn't understand how we conducted business via the Internet," Rich said. "We were deemed high-risk because we didn't have the traditional trappings of a business."
Sharon interjected, with a smile, "No, because they worked out of the backseats of their cars."
"We built the infrastructure, which caused prices to rise and then our prospective clients said our rates were too high," Rich said. Now the family jokes about the company's world headquarters being stationed in their basement.
Although Rich works in the computer industry, he admits he doesn't know everything, and sometimes needs to ask questions. Tech-support often comes from his daughter Jennifer or his co-workers.
"I know people who are much more skilled than me on Internet stuff, so I ask them for help or for them to point me in a direction. But, usually I can figure out how to get what I need," he said, admitting he is a man who loves to fiddle around until he can solve a problem.
Digital photography is a snap
The computer is not just a tool for work. Two-years ago, Rich invested in a digital camera. The "toy" goes on all the family trips, and has been toted as far as Honduras, Scotland and England. It has recorded graduation, proms, soccer tournaments, Christmas, the family cats and fun moments around the house.
At first Sharon, the avid scrapbooker, didn't like the digital camera. She wanted something tangible that she could put in her scrapbook. Rich bought a color printer with a high resolution to print the pictures. Now, Rich prints proofs and Sharon picks the images she likes.
Rich e-mails family members the pictures he has taken. He also puts together useful PowerPoint presentations. After a flood-relief mission trip with his church to Honduras, Rich put together a presentation to show the congregation. Since then, he has been asked to do several other presentations for his church.
Rich has e-mailed Jennifer pictures for her Web site. He complains that his modem makes downloads time-consuming compared to Jennifer's high-speed T3 connection at Elon.
"I've had no significant reason to change from AOL - unless Time Warner strings cable out our way and we get cable-modem transmission speeds," he said. It may be a while before the cable lines make it their house, seeing that they have lived on the edge of the county for almost 10 years and they still don't have cable.
Instant Messenger is incredible
Jennifer and Kristin have used Instant Messenger for years through AOL. After Jennifer left for college, their parents began to use it more often. "Now, I leave an away message up on my computer when I'm not around," Jennifer said. "It's better than an answering machine, because I can leave my parents notes about where I am and what I am doing."
Instant Messenger is the main method for communication for mother and daughter, but the phone is used once a week. "Sometimes I just need to hear a voice from home," Jennifer said.
While most college students use Instant Messenger, Jennifer has found that some friendships demand more communication than the technology can handle.
"My best friend, Emmy, is a graphic design major at another university, and she sits at the computer all day. As a journalism student, I can sympathize," Jennifer said. They tried using Instant Messenger to stay in touch, but it didn't fulfill their needs. She and Emmy talk the old-fashioned way now probably twice a week, thanks to a great cell phone package with extra minutes.
"My fingers can't keep up with all I want to tell her," she said. "We just gave up and use the phone."
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