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

"AOL revolutionized how we used the Internet. It was much easier to use than Prodigy because it was more organized and user friendly. Also most of my friends had AOL too, so we were able to communicate through their Instant Messenger program." -Brad Pinkerton

Brad Pinkerton Brad Pinkerton

It typically follows the same pattern of any other addiction. At first an individual may use it casually, just on the weekends for social purposes. As time passes, the user becomes more and more dependent, often finding himself using it several times a week. It doesn't take long before a person finds himself addicted to the Internet and tangled in an inescapable Web.

Brad Pinkerton, 20, has been an Internet user for about six years. "I first started using the Internet with a free-trial offer we got from Prodigy when my parents bought our first home computer in 1995," Pinkerton recalls. "I was 14 and had never been online before, so I was curious as to what was out there."

E-mail, games and more fascinate

It didn't take long before Brad was exploring the Internet's endless supply of information. The first thing he began to use on the Prodigy service was e-mail, which he used to communicate with a few friends who were also learning to use the Internet.

"I was fascinated with e-mail," says Pinkerton. "Although a simple phone call might have been easier, it was just something new and different to try."

The World Wide Web was another new concept that intrigued Brad. An avid video game player, Brad would use the Internet to find information on new video games.

"I was amazed at how much information I could find about my favorite video games. And you could communicate with people all over the country. That's what I like about the Internet, the amount of information and resources that are available," Brad says.

For the first two years, Brad was the only member of his family who used the Internet on a regular basis.

AOL interests the entire family

His mother, JoAnn Pinkerton was unfamiliar with the Internet and used it only once in a while, just to explore the Web. His father, Reg Pinkerton never used the computer, much less the Internet. Even his sister, Melissa, who was 10 when the family bought the computer, did not find herself online very often.

It was not until the Pinkertons switched their Internet service provider from Prodigy to America Online that other members of the family began to use the Internet more.

"AOL revolutionized how we used the Internet," Brad says. "It was much easier to use than Prodigy because it was more organized and user friendly. Also most of my friends had AOL too, so we were able to communicate through their Instant Messenger program."

With the introduction of AOL, both JoAnn and Melissa began to increase their Internet time. JoAnn says she likes the ease with which you can look up information on the Internet.

"What I like most about the Internet is being able to look up information that you would normally have to go to the library to look up," says JoAnn. "You can get information to so many things so quickly."

Melissa, now turning 17, agrees that the wealth of information is the Internet's strongest quality, and has found it to be very helpful with research for her schoolwork.

Despite the amount of information and entertainment available online, Reg Pinkerton still shied away from signing on. It wasn't until he began to use e-mail in his office at work that he first experimented with the Internet.

In his office, Reg is able to communicate with coworkers at Mechanical Contractors, where he is a project manager, as well as with other companies that collaborate with Mechanical on different jobs.

Internet is key in college communicating

Now in college, Brad finds himself online several times a day checking his e-mail, chatting with friends on Instant Messenger or keeping up with the latest headlines in the sports world.

"At school it's so easy to get on the Internet because we have a T3 line. That makes the Internet faster and that much more convenient than using it at home with the dial-up connection my family has," Brad explains.

Is a Net connection worth the cost?

This dial-up connection has been the source of frustration for JoAnn and Melissa as they continue to try to expand their horizons on the Internet.

"A lot of times there are bad connections or you'll get cut off," Melissa says. "Sometimes you can't even sign on. I could tell you many stories of frustration with my Internet experiences, but I don't want to get myself all worked up."

JoAnn also shares in these frustrations. Recently, she attempted to switch from AOL to MSN, only to find herself spending hours in front of a computer screen that told her the service was unable to connect with the server.

Both Melissa and JoAnn say they feel that a faster connection would enhance their experiences on the Internet, but neither think it would be worth the extra cost. In fact, neither believes the investment the family has made in the home PC and monthly Internet service provider fees has been worth it.

"My family mostly uses the Internet for e-mail, and those are usually jokes that get forwarded to me, so I'm not sure if I think the investment has been worth it either," says Brad.

"Their current connection is so slow that it's virtually impossible for them to explore the things that have been growing popular over the past year such as downloading music. My sister started to use Napster, but found herself waiting an entire day for one song to download. That doesn't seem worth it."

Great for research of all kinds

On the other hand, Brad has found the Internet to be very useful. During his junior year in high school, Brad used the Internet to research colleges and to communicate with the admissions departments at various schools.

The Internet has also proved to be a valuable resource in college for the journalism major. "I use the Internet all the time to look up information for stories or papers I might be doing for class," Brad says. As a member of the baseball team at Elon University, Brad will also frequently use the Internet to scout opposing teams and prepare for upcoming games.

His most recent fascination with the Internet has been downloading music from network communities such as Napster and the Scour Exchange.

"I love music, so the exchange communities have been a big interest for me," Brad says. "Sometimes I find myself spending hours looking up new songs and songs I haven't heard in years. I guess you could call it an addiction."

Future will be faster and better

Brad says he's always thinking about what could be better about the Internet and what technologies will inevitably be introduced in the future.

He says he looks forward to faster connections and advancements in telecommunications via computer. Undoubtedly, these new technologies will make an already fascinating Internet even more intriguing and, in turn, will make an already strong addiction even stronger.


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