An introduction to this study of family use of the Internet.
"It is sometimes scary to think how far we could go with the
Internet technology. But, I really believe the Internet will be used to better
our lives and bring services to people that they would not have otherwise."
The weekend bag is packed. The car is full of gas. All that is left to do is get directions. Point. Click on the inbox and print. With that, Erica Stanley, Elon University junior, is on her way on a weekend road trip to visit a friend. What used to take Erica countless long-distance calls, answering machine messages and scribbled directions on a sheet of paper, is now being accomplished almost effortlessly with the help of e-mail and the technology from the Internet.
"I can't believe how easy it is to make plans with friends across the miles," Erica said. "I can get directions and drive right to a friend's doorstep without ever picking up a telephone."
And not picking up the telephone is exactly what Erica cites as the biggest benefit she has reaped from using the Internet. "I used to spend a lot of extra money on pre-paid phone cards, calling home and friends at other schools," she said. "Since I've started using the Internet, I can see the difference that spare change makes."
Mom joins daughter in the online world
Erica is not the only member of her family taking advantage of the Internet as a way to keep in touch. Her mother, Vicki Wilson, recently went online for the first time, and says she thinks it is a great way to contact her college daughter.
"I am using the Internet to e-mail my daughter at school almost daily, and I really look forward to checking my mail to see if I've heard from her," Vicki said. "I like this because it has really cut down on my long-distance calls."
While Vicki had lived without the Internet for most of her life, she decided it was time to take the plunge for business purposes and to keep in touch with her daughter.
"I first went online to sell collectible dolls on eBay," she said. "I also knew Erica would be happier when home if we were online and she could continue to keep in touch with her friends."
While Vicki is just now learning of the many options the Internet has to offer, she is already becoming a regular user. "I am really enjoying the e-mail and the Lottos," she said. "I play my lucky numbers daily with hopes of winning prizes or even a million dollars."
Being wired is a university requirement
Erica first went online upon arriving at college as a way to keep in contact with high school friends and communicate with professors. She says she was not aware of how Internet-based college life really is. "I was really surprised at what an emphasis was placed on e-mailing assignments and announcements for classes," she said. "I found out quickly that checking my e-mail was just as important as reading a chapter in my textbook."
Contrary to the research by Norman Nie of Stanford University that found the Internet to be a contributor to social isolation, Erica says she believes the Internet helps keep people connected.
"E-mail allows people to share more of their lives across the miles and without having to leave their homes," she said. "I wouldn't necessarily pick up the phone to tell my mom about an exciting day, but with e-mail, she is included in more of the little joys of my life."
In addition to using e-mail to communicate with friends and family, Erica says she has also found the Internet to be a great source of information. "I think it is a great research tool," she said. "Databases like Lexis-Nexis are the resources I use for every major research assignment."
eBay, auction sites, Napster are also favorites
Being online has also helped Erica keep up with her hobbies. She says that the she has especially enjoyed using the online auction site, eBay.
"I got hooked on eBay when I started looking for hard-to-find collectibles," she said. "It's exciting to see an auction ending in a matter of seconds, especially when you have the highest bid."
The music download site, Napster, has also proved to be one of the communications major's favorite places to visit on the Internet.
"With Napster, you have virtually any song imaginable at your fingertips," Erica said. "I think it's great for college kids like me who don't have the extra cash to go out and buy a CD every time they hear a song they like."
The Internet has come to be part of Erica's daily schedule, despite her full class load, part-time job and commitments to various campus organizations. "Checking my e-mail and looking up quick facts online is now part of my daily routine," she said. "I come home, check my answering machine and usually my e-mail soon after."
A definite positive influence in society
While the Internet has impacted the Elon student's life, Erica says she realizes its impacts on society as well. "I think the Internet has revolutionized society," she said. "What used to take hours or weeks can now be completed with a click of a button."
When thinking about future developments with Internet technology, Erica is optimistic about how new innovations will be used.
"It is sometimes scary to think how far we could go with the Internet technology," she said. "But, I really believe the Internet will be used to better our lives and bring services to people that they would not have otherwise."
Elon University, North Carolina
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Last Modified:January 2001
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