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

"This is sort of feeling I want to make sure my family knows. I want them to understand just how great it can be to work in the vast place of information. So I began to teach them the things I know, as little as it may be in respect to others. It has helped them to expand their knowledge of a new technology that they once thought they could never understand." -Nathan Holcomb

Nathan Holcomb Nathan Holcomb

The big rock house sits up on the hill, with numerous mountains cascading around and in the distance. At any time of the day, one can see a gentle smoke rising from the tips of these mountains. It's an average day at the Holcomb house.

My mother, Bavaria, 43, is cooking in the kitchen, and the smells permeate the air as you enter the house. My dad, Mike, 46, has tuned in soulful gospel music on the stereo in the family room. My sister Niccole, 21, is in the living room with the television set tuned to an Elvis Presley movie while she uses her E-machine computer and America Online.

Moving up and getting connected

My family did not get hooked into the Internet until last year. "I'm too old to learn new things. It's only for young people," my mom kept saying. My parents did not really understand what they were getting into when they signed up for online service.

My mom and my dad had never had a lot of experience working with computers, but with the prodding of my sister and I, they went ahead and took the plunge and signed on. When they first began their Internet journey, Niccole was not all that familiar with working on the Web herself. I was away at college, and I kept getting call after call after call about how to do things.

"Nate how do I find your school on the Net?" "Nate how do I send this e-mail?" "Nate! How do I get this back?" These were some of the questions I received over the telephone, as a strong sense of computer illiteracy took place at my house in Bryson City, N.C.

My parents would call and say, "All that money we are putting into this good education you are getting, you had better know how to fix any problem that we have." The only thing was I am not a computer major, I am a communications major. I prayed that with every question I could give a correct answer so that I would not look too dumb and it would look like their money was going to good use.

Learning the new things

For me, being away at school, a computer lab has become my second home. I have to spend a lot of time there and work with a lot of different things. Although working with some programs is fun, working with the Internet is still the most enjoyable thing I do in the labs. It is amazing to have access to any information all over the world at just the point and click of a mouse.

This is sort of feeling I want to make sure my family knows. I want them to understand just how great it can be to work in the vast place of information. So I began to teach them the things I know, as little as it may be in respect to others. It has helped them to expand their knowledge of a new technology that they once thought they could never understand.

The family signs on, and dad and sis are hooked

"The Internet is a really fun thing to use," my father Mike tells me now. "I never knew you would be able to get all that stuff in one place. I didn't get the chance to go to college, and learn all that new stuff, but being on here gives me the chance to learn some new things that I didn't think that I ever would."

My father and sister have been very receptive to the help I have been giving. My sister, an extremely independent person, has done a lot to teach herself, though. I just had to show her the basics of what to do and she was off and running.

"I just type something in and see if it works," she explains. "If I want to know something about anything at all, all I have to do is type it in and I can get information from all over the world. It's a pretty cool deal."

Mom is catching on gradually

My mother, on the other hand, is still working on trying to learn all the fun stuff that father and Niccole do. She is getting pretty adept at running e-mail - checking and sending - but all the fun stuff is still a little vague to her.

"How could anyone want all of that personal stuff out on Web for everyone to see?' she asks. "That's just amazing to me." Although she was having trouble believing it, she did after I gave her a short demonstration over a break when I was home.

I did a personal search over the Web and showed her that even her name, yes even information about her could be found on the Web. "That's scary. People who don't even know me can find me. It's scary but it's cool," she said.

This past Christmas break, she had taken a big step from the last time I saw her on the computer. My sister had always wanted to go to Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., and see where her heartthrob Elvis Presley lived. So as a surprise my mom was going to try and take her there.

Information could not have been received in the mail quickly enough, so she began to look for it on the Web. To my surprise, she was able to find a Web site and get information on hours of operation and ticket prices. My sister got to take her trip, and all the planning was done in advance. All because mother took a spin on the Internet.

Taking it farther

The Internet is changing the society as we see it today. You can find much more information now than ever before. We are provided with ways to find things out and talk about things that we never thought were possible.

Thanks to the Internet my family is communication and learning new things in a different, better way. Working on the computer is bringing my family together. Every time someone gets on there, the others are there to watch and see what is going on. No one is there to work alone unless they are home alone.

Having the Internet has caused my family to have another reason to spend time together. I believe that it has been a big help for them. When they have had a long day, and everyone has been run wire-to-wire, they can all sit down around the computer and talk about their day, while they check their e-mail and send out replies.

"Having the Internet has been very good for us," my father says. "When a family as close as ours does not get to spend a lot of time together during the day, it's good to know that we can find time at some point in the evening to spend a few minutes and enjoy the company of the ones you love most."


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