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

"I don't know how I ever lived without the Internet. It is a resource that provides a wealth of information right at your fingertips at any time of the day or night." - Kristin Torcasi

Kristin Torcasi Kristin Torcasi

Friends + Family = Distance. Throw the Internet into that equation, and suddenly distance becomes diminished. This new equation proves true for Kristin Torcasi, an Elon University student. "Being connected with friends and family is important to me and the Internet makes those connections easier and cheaper," remarks Kristin.

Before attending Elon University in 1998, Kristin Torcasi, now a junior, had very little experience with the Internet. "I never even had an e-mail account because we didn't have Internet access at home," she explains. "Getting used to the Internet and e-mail took some time, but the time I spent learning and teaching myself how to use the Internet was worth it. However, I think that no matter how much time you spend on the Internet, there is always something more you can learn about it."

The 24-hour access of the Internet is something Kristin says she values the most. Because she works a part-time job as a waitress, she often doesn't get to start on her homework until late at night. "I don't have to worry about what time the library closes," she says. "I can get all the information I need by going online."

She said she also feels that the amount of information that can be found online is more extensive and takes less time to look up. "I know not all the information you find will be credible," she says, "but common sense can usually decipher between the good sites and the bad ones."

Laptop handy for e-mail, research, everything

Kristin bought a Compaq Presario laptop computer before her sophomore year in college. She got a laptop so it would be easier to transport between home and school.

"I love having my own computer," she says. "It is so much more convenient, and you have your own personal preferences saved on your desktop." She also likes the fact that she can take her computer to the Elon University library, sit at a table, and still be able to hook up to the Internet through the connections there.

"I use the Internet for so many different things," remarks Kristin. "I'm constantly checking my e-mail, shopping, getting directions, looking up numbers, checking the weather, playing games and chatting with friends."

Her favorite home page is msn.com. She likes the way it is set up and makes things so easy to find. Being a poor college student, Kristin didn't want to pay for Internet access, so one of her friends told her about NetZero. NetZero is a free Internet service provider that Kristin downloaded and now uses.

"The only bad thing about the Internet, and it's really not even bad," claims Kristin, "is that it is such a distraction. Whenever I'm writing a paper or doing online research and get stuck, I always have to check my e-mail or sign on to Instant Messenger."

She actually confessed while she was in class and supposed to be working, she was harmlessly just "looking" at one of her favorite sites, stevemadden.com, and ended up buying a pair of sandals.

"I'm sorry, but I couldn't help it," she shamefully admits. "I had wanted this pair for a long time and saw that they were on sale so I couldn't resist."

Staying close with family and friends

Kristin is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and attending Elon puts her a couple hundred miles away from home. She said the Internet has made the distance between her and her family seem diminished.

Through e-mail and AOL Instant Messenger, Kristin is able to keep in contact with family members on a daily basis without running up expensive phone bills.

"Being from a family of six, it is easier to stay in contact with my parents and siblings through the Internet," she explains. I don't always have time to call, but when I meet them online, I am able to chat with them for a couple minutes and get caught up with the family gossip."

Kristin still has many close friends from high school with whom she stays in contact via the Internet. "We're scattered all over," says Kristin of her friends from home "Phone bills can get a little outrageous. Having Instant Messenger makes a huge difference because you are able to chat with them for free."

She also said it keeps her connected to people with whom she would have normally lost contact. "I talk to some people online, and that is pretty much the only way I would know to contact them," she says. "It helps because you don't have to keep up with the constantly changing phone numbers of your college friends from year to year."

Full house at the Torcasis'

Having four kids in the house, all with different schedules, the computer rarely had a chance to rest. The family computer was relocated from her parent's bedroom to Kristin's bedroom for convenience once she left for college.

"We didn't want the kids coming in and waking us up at night to do their homework," her mom, Maureen, explains. "Dan especially. Now that he's the only one left at home, when he gets bored, he usually goes to the computer."

Dan is the youngest in the family and a freshman in high school. He is said by the family to be the most tech-savvy person in the household. "Dan can sit at the computer and download music and games, talk to friends, and check sports scores, figuring out everything for himself as he goes along," Kristin says.

He is always talking to ten different people on Instant Messenger, busily clicking between dialog boxes. According to Kristin, he hardly gets a chance to respond to her when she tries to chat with him because he is "too busy" with his friends.

Kristin says she feels as if she puts a damper on Dan's social life when she comes home from college. Although she is happy to see her brother, having him constantly in her room on the computer can become a bit unnerving.

When told to leave, Dan's common response is, "Can't YOU go somewhere else? I'm trying to talk to my friends. It's everyone's computer." "Yes Dan," Kristin says. "but don't forget, it's MY room!"

Older generation not as Net-savvy

According to Kristin, her parents were somewhat slower when trying to adapt to the age of the Internet. "My mom had enough trouble trying to use Microsoft Word, let alone something like e-mail. She wouldn't even attempt to understand something as 'complex' as chatting on AOL Instant Messenger," Kristin says.

Maureen, a pre-school teacher, is still very limited in her Internet use and has no intention of excelling in this area. "It's just too confusing and always leaves me feeling frustrated," admits Maureen.

Kristin's dad, Randy, is a high school teacher. He appreciates the advantages the digital information age has introduced for everyone. "The Internet is a great tool that provides us with resources otherwise beyond our reach," Randy says.

At first he was as inexperienced as his wife was when it came to the Internet, and he was very skeptical about signing up for service. "The main reason I got Internet at home is because the kids were constantly bugging me about it," he recalls. "All I heard was how great it was and how we HAD to have it."

So many things to find online

Randy has now become an avid user of the Internet. "I use it for so many things, I can't imagine life without it," he says.

Randy used to buy unfinished Corvettes and restore then sell them. Wanting one of his own, he had been looking online and came upon the car of his dreams.

"There I saw it," he says dreamily. "It was a red Corvette convertible, and I knew I had to have it." Kristin was amazed at her dad's huge online gamble. It is now his newest prized possession.

He found the car at the web address www.westcoastcorvette.com. It was located in California, a long way from home. He wanted to make sure the car was in good condition, and not being able to see it in person was his main concern. Fortunately, he knew someone who lived in California close to where the car was located. Feeling reassured once a trusted friend looked over the car in person, Randy went ahead and bought it. He didn't make the actual transaction online, but did all the research up to that point.

Now it's a part of their lives The Internet has become an important part of life for the Torcasi family. "I don't know how I ever lived without the Internet," Kristin reflects. "It is a resource that provides a wealth of information right at your fingertips at any time of the day or night."


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