An introduction to this study of family use of the Internet.
"Before, you were only able to get the highlights of the story,"
said Sharon. "Maybe the exciting points or the upsetting points. Now you are able
to get the details and really feel what they are feeling." -Sharon Holmes
The Holmes Family
By Amanda Anderson-Rainie
Are computers a fad? Is using the Internet just a trend people are catching onto to prove they are up to par with the technology world?
Not according to members of the Holmes family of the Ashley Woods neighborhood. Gary and Sharon have been using computers for more than 15 years, and have owned their own since 1986. Both have worked with mainframe computers in the past. Their current PC, purchased in August, is a Dell Pentium III.
So 15 years and five computers later, Sharon had this to say about the family's computer use: "It is like a way of life for us. What would we do and where would we be without it?"
That really is the question being explored. How valued is this system to our culture? How would we operate otherwise?
Running a business would not be easy without the Internet
Gary, 45, is a self-employed salesman. He runs his own business from his house. With all the things entailed in running a business, the computer and the Internet more than come in handy. When advertising, planning, searching, and communicating are all top priorities, the computer can act as the jumpstart one needs to burst into the world of success.
Admitting that he is a self-taught user, Gary also says he has met with frustrations and potholes along the way. He says when technical glitches strike he is able to ask his tech-savvy wife for help.
Who's the expert in the family?
Sharon, now a stay-at-home mom, received her programming degree from Alamance Community College, and before having children she worked as a free-lance computer programmer. They are lucky to have one member has useful experience in the technical area.
Amy, the couple's 12-year-old daughter, says she is a self-taught Internet and computer user. She however, has extended her knowledge of the computer, enabling her to explore sites dealing with research for school, downloading music, and looking at Japanese animation. She says she also has learned about the processes of shopping online and sending e-mail.
These are things she is able to pass on to her little sister Caty, who uses the computer a little bit, but who is gaining knowledge by the day just by being exposed to the rest of her family.
Safeguarding the kids
With Amy being so active on the Internet, and Caty catching on, Gary and Sharon possess many of the concerns that parents everywhere have. They are always aware of the risk involved in letting their children use the Internet unsupervised. They say that they really trust the AOL parental control system, and add that it does a wonderful job in safeguarding their kids.
As parents, they have also implemented rules of their own for the girls. Amy, who spends a lot of time on the Net has set time limits in which she can use the Internet during the week. Both girls are also not allowed to use Instant Messenger unless otherwise given the go-ahead by mom or dad.
"We have no regrets or changes of heart about the Internet, but our biggest concern will always be what the kids have access to," said Gary.
When I use it, when I don't
Between making honor roll certificates for Elon Elementary, and getting her oldest daughter ready for a ski trip, Sharon Holmes admitted that the week of the Elon-Pew Internet Study was not a typical one for her in regard to the Internet. She usually uses it more often. She also said that this wasn't uncommon for her for this time of year. Her use of the Internet varies from month to month.
She says she uses the Net frequently during the holiday shopping season, and now that science projects are upon all families with school-aged kids, she is sure that she and her family will be online constantly trying to find information and research to help the children create winning products.
Staying in touch and connected
A good majority of Internet users say their prime use for the Internet is to keep in contact with family members and friends. According to the Holmes family, frequent e-mail users, e-mail definitely replaces traditional letter writing in many cases in their lives.
They say they appreciated the fact that e-mail is fast and efficient: no going to the post office or trying to find stamps and it is cheap and easy - two ideas Americans appreciate.
Members of Sharon's family have created their own Web site. Since they are spread out through North Carolina, Missouri and Kansas, Sharon's cousin thought it would be a good idea to set up the site. Family members say it is a better way to get personal and obtain more detail on what and how the others are feeling. "Before, you were only able to get the highlights of the story," said Sharon. "Maybe the exciting points or the upsetting points. Now you are able to get the details and really feel what they are feeling."
Serious matters concerning family and friends can also be dealt with through the use of the Internet. For example, when Sharon's father was ill, her sister was able to look up the diagnosis on the Internet so that she and her family were able to be more knowledgeable of the situation and the illness.
Sharon was also recently contacted by a classmate from 25 years ago. She said he was able to look her up on classmates.com. The Internet can help in similar situations such as finding a long-lost relative, or even in the adoption of a child.
The situation with cyber lovers
So what is the consensus on cyber lovers? Thinking that they only exist in movies or among troubled kids and adults is definitely a wrong assumption.
The Holmes have seen the house-breaking aspects of this new communications medium first-hand.
Sharon and Gary say they know of at least two couples that have been torn apart by one spouse having a cyber lover. In both cases, the couples had been married for more than 20 years, and the families were torn apart permanently.
What is the outcome? Is it money well spent?
When asked if the money the family members have invested in their computer and Internet hook-up is worth it, voices fill the living room with a simultaneous, confident, "Yes."
In the Holmes family household, although every day might not be an Internet-filled day, the Net is seen as a beneficial addition that provides the information needed to complete school projects, run a successful business, keep up with current community news and stay in touch. It serves as a wonderful tool for learning and entertainment.
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Last Modified:January 2001
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