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

"There is so much information out there, and it's all at your fingertips." - Cathy Hamlett

Heather Kennon Heather Kennon

"I want a computer for Christmas! I want a computer for Christmas!" exclaimed 15-year-old Heather and 9-year-old Michael. After hearing months of their boisterous pleading, their parents finally gave in and bought them a new Packard Bell computer for Christmas in 1994.

"We originally bought the computer, not only because they bugged us all year, but because we thought it would be a great information source for our children," explains Heather's mom, Cathy. "There's so much information out there, and it's all at your fingertips."

At a time when it was beginning to seem as if computers were becoming a necessity, David and Cathy Hamlett decided there was no way to get around it. They were going to have to purchase their children a computer in order for them to keep up in the classroom.

First experiences with the computer

"In the beginning, I used the computer primarily for typing reports, finding research information using CD-ROMs and playing games like solitaire and mine sweep," says Heather Kennon.

"On the other hand, my brother only used the computer to play games because his elementary school classes didn't require much use of the computer."

As for Heather and Michaels' parents, well neither of them used the computer that much, if any at all.

Getting connected and going online

A little less than a year later, Heather's family received a CD in the mail advertising 50 free hours for trying America Online.

Kennon family "Mom look, we can try this for free," Heather excitedly declared. Cathy had heard people talk about the Internet, but knew little about it herself. After some consideration, she decided to allow Heather to download the CD onto the computer and use it for the trial period.

"Heather was really the only one who used the Internet at first," says Cathy. Michael, being younger, lacked interest in the Internet. He preferred going outside, riding his bike and playing with his neighborhood friends. Heather on the other hand, wanted to learn all she could about this new technology.

"I basically taught myself how to use the Internet. No one in my family really knew anything about it, so I was pretty much on my own," Heather says.

The typical new Internet user has a tendency to explore the Web. Heather fell right in line. "When we first received the Internet, I used to surf a lot," she admits. "I would check out all the cool sites that were sent to me automatically through e-mail. I used to go to chat sites quite often and use different search engines to look up information for research papers at school."

Heather was learning, and she was making good use of the Internet, so her parents decided that it would be a good idea to invest in this monthly service.

Interest gathers in teen years

As Michael got older, he too became interested in the Internet. "I showed him a few sites I thought he would like," Heather explains.

"Heather showed me how to first use the Internet," Michael says. "After that, it's like riding a bike. You get used to it and learn things on your own."

At first, he was mostly interested in playing games online and searching for game codes that he could use to get to different stages on his Nintendo 64 and Playstation.

When it hit him that there was an enormous amount of information and other cool stuff on the Internet, he too began to surf. "There are sites for everything you can think of," says Michael.

The battle over the computer

Two major problems arose once Heather's family got connected. The first was that there was only one computer and two people who wanted to use it.

"It never failed that if one of us was on the computer that the other one would want to use it at the same time," Heather explains. To eliminate this problem, Heather decided to purchase her own computer at her expense.

She persistently searched around, comparing prices on the various models available. To her dismay, prices had dropped dramatically but they were still not low enough for her to buy a computer and keep up with her college tuition and books.

Then, out of the blue, a simple solution came to her. Mark!

"Mark is one of my best friends. I graduated from high school with him, and he is what I call a computer nerd - just a joke between friends - I called him up, and he said he would gladly build me a computer," Heather recalls. After hours of comparison-shopping on pricewatch.com, Mark was able to find all the components he needed to build a computer for Heather at a price that would accommodate her wallet.

The Internet vs. the telephone

The first problem was solved by a simple purchase of a second computer, but the second one was still lingering. What do you do when someone needs to use the phone and someone else is using the Internet?

"Every time I need to use the phone Heather is on the computer, and every time Heather has to use the phone I am on the computer," Michael exclaims.

"It's a no-win situation most of the time. We always need one or the other at all times it seems like," Heather explains.

Heather's family has not quite figured out a solution to this problem since the price of a second line is so expensive. One alternative they now have is that Heather has a cell phone that she can use if she has to make or take a call while Michael is on the computer.

"We use the Internet as much as we use the phone," says Michael.

The luxuries of the Internet

"I use AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) at least one to three hours a day," states Michael. He has found AIM to be a very important part of his life. He uses it to talk to all of his school friends online.

"I use it to talk to all my friends at the same time. You don't have to just talk to one person, like you do on the phone. You can talk to as many people as you want all at the same time," says Michael.

"I use IM as well," Heather says. "It is a great way for me to keep in touch with all my high school friends who have gone off to college. We can send instant messages and keep up to date on how our lives are going."

It doesn't just keep friends in touch, it has also cut down on some of the long-distance phone calls. "I don't have to pay extra money to use AIM no matter where my friends are," expresses Heather.

E-mail as well is another wonderful communications feature of the Internet. "I use e-mail all the time," Heather says. "I use it at college and work to do business and forward messages to friends, and I use it at home to send messages to friends and get information." With e-mail, she explains, you can get all the information you want in a matter of minutes or hours instead of days.

Most visited sites on the Web

Michael enjoys going to specific sites repeatedly now that he is an experience Internet user.

"I use Napster a lot of the time to download all songs I want to hear," he says. He uses different Web sites to look up skateboard information, the latest song information, some clothing items and many other things. Michael's main uses for the Internet are to find songs on Napster and the Hitlist and to connect with his friends on AIM.

The older folks of the family, mom Cathy and Heather's step-dad David don't go online. They leave it to the children.

"I have Heather look up things for me on the Internet since I can not do it myself," Cathy explains. Cathy is a baseball fan and loves to read books. She goes to the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds sites to get all kinds of information. She enjoys shopping for items on the Atlanta Braves site.

"I love to read, so I get Heather to go to the Barnes & Noble site and the Amazon site to look up books I want," explains Cathy.

David doesn't use the Internet at all himself. "Occasionally, he will bring me a magazine with a few Web sites he wants me to look up," says Heather. "Most of the time it is to look up car-part prices, or to get a catalog sent to him."

Heather and the Internet

"The Internet has become a huge part of my life" says the most-experienced Net surfer in the family. "I have four e-mail addresses, two at home, one at school and one at work. I use e-mail to communicate all the time.

"The sites I most frequently use are e-bay, Hitlist, American Eagle, Gap, Napster and personal sites to look up my credit card statements and 401K plan."

Since Heather is the most Web-savvy member of the family, the others frequently come to her when they want to learn how to do something.

"The Internet has really changed my lifestyle," she says. "I don't have to go the library as much to find out quick facts. I can stay connected with any of my friends who have moved away without running up the phone bill. And I can use e-mail to get quick responses for information I need to know.

"Since my life is always on the go with so many responsibilities, I have to make the most of every second. The Internet has helped to minimize the time I spend looking for information so that I can spend my time on other things."


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