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

"The Net been an invaluable resource for me, something that has benefited my studies as well as my character through all the years I have been using it. I remain a smarter and more educated person for having it." -Mark Van Hook

Mark Van Hook Mark Van Hook

When people first decide to invest in a home computer, they do it for a number of reasons. Some want their kids to be able to do their school work. Some like to manage their taxes, check the state of their stocks or do their shopping online. Some just buy a PC so that their kids can do schoolwork.

My reason was not so practical as any of these. When I was 15 years old, I begged my parents to buy a computer for our house for one simple reason. I wanted to play Doom II.

Of course, my mom and dad didn't know this (or maybe they did). I used such false reasoning as, "It's gonna make me a better student," and "You guys can use it for word processing, too!" But the whole time, I really just wanted to shoot some demons with a double-barreled shotgun. And my wish became reality.

In April of 1995, my parents gave in to my selfish desires and purchased a lovely new AST computer with a 100Mhz Pentium processor (top of the line, of course). The day it was delivered, I called my friend down to our house. He knew more about setting up a computer than I ever would. In about 10 minutes, we had set up this beautiful new piece of machinery.

And, of course, the first step I took was to install Doom II.

Taking the next step

It was the next step we took with the computer, however, that changed my life, as well as the life of our family, for years to come. We had one of those wonderful America Online disks that offered "Fifty free hours!," and I was curious to see just what this was about. So I called another friend of mine from up the street, and he walked me through the steps to set up our first online account, complete with our very own screen name and e-mail account.

At first, the Internet was a tool that fed my passions. Being a film geek as well as a computer game nerd, I was able to use the Net to read reviews of the latest films, as well as learning about what was coming up.

But through all this aimless surfing, something strange was happening. I began to actually use the system for (gasp!) school-related activities. Whatever information I needed for research papers, essays, etc. could be found simply by typing the word into a search engine. The Internet was becoming not only a hobby, but also a way of life.

Connecting to the "real" Internet

It soon became apparent that America Online wasn't enough. After becoming obsessed with and eventually getting my hands on Quake (the latest game from the makers of Doom), I read about being able to play the game over the Internet with many other people. After a failed attempt to set up the game online and a quick call to id Software (makers of the game), it became apparent to me that you couldn't play games using America Online because it wasn't a "real" Internet provider (to this day, I still don't know what they meant).

So, being the motivated young lad that I was, I asked around and school and found out about MyHost Internet, a local company that provided true Internet access. Eventually, I convinced my wonderful parents that we needed to invest in this (I didn't really know why, I just knew that we needed it). And just like that, we were wired to the "real" Internet (still using AOL, however, because being able to connect through our own provider allowed us to knock ten bucks off the monthly rate).

This new service allowed me to search the Internet at a much faster rate, without having to go through all of the silly little features that made AOL so tedious and trite.

Beginning the college years

When it came time for me to go to college, it was impossible for me to take the home computer with me (although I was the one who used it the most). So my father, great guy that he is, was able to get a very cheap used computer for me through his work. There was a problem, however. The computer he got only had a 90Mhz Pentium processor (almost an antique by the standards of the time). Here I was, the selfish teenager who expected my parents to buy me a top of the line PC, and I was only being offered a Pentium 90?

Although the computer was antiquated, it offered something that I had never been exposed to: an Ethernet card. Living in a university dorm, I was able to connect to the school's network, which gave me much faster Internet access than I had ever seen before on the home PC (which was still using a 28.8 modem).

At college the Internet quickly became a bigger part of my life than it had ever been. I soon discovered AOL Instant Messenger, a service that allowed me to talk to my friends from home without leaving the computer (the actual AOL service offered a similar feature, but you had to be signed onto the service in order to use it).

Bonanza! A refund buys a new PC

About halfway through my first year of college, I stumbled upon the fact that my Dad would be getting a refund from the University (I didn't exactly know why, but it didn't matter), which would be just enough to pay for a brand new computer. Through my brilliant powers of persuasion (and, once again, my desire to play computer games; this time it was Quake III: Arena), I was able to convince Dad to get me a blazing-fast Pentium III 600. When it arrived I tore into the packaging like a little kid on Christmas, and with the help of my friends, had the new machine running beautifully.

Did the new computer change my Internet life? Not really. I still used the Net for the same reasons: hobbies, e-mail, Instant Messaging, etc. I used the Net to feed all of my school needs as well, including writing papers and even e-mailing teachers to find out about assignments. The Internet had long since stopped being a novelty, and had become a necessity.

Internet Use in 2001

Nowadays, the Internet's impact on my life remains an important one. I continue to use the Net each day for many of the same reasons that drove me in the past. I'll still read movie reviews (favorite sites include www.reel.com, www.roughcut.com, www.aint-it-cool-news.com, and www.mrshowbiz.com) play computer games (Quake III and Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 are current favorites) and check e-mail.

Instant messaging has become a utility that allows me to keep in touch with friends from home as well as friends here at school.

When I'm feeling motivated, I'll even do some schoolwork using the Internet. Teachers will e-mail me assignments and information about classes, and I can find out all the latest goings-on around the university through the school's Web site.

I recently discovered Napster, the music-downloading service, and have built up an impressive collection of MP3 files. Come to think of it, it's hard to imagine life without the Internet. It's that important.

Looking back and wondering

As I look back on my history with the Internet, I wonder about its merits. It has certainly benefited me enormously in my schoolwork. It has made me a smarter, more well-rounded individual and enhanced my creativity by leaps and bounds.

I wonder, however, if it has not also isolated me from the rest of my family. When I think about all the time I spent on the computer back home during my high school years, I think about ways I could have spent my time more constructively, how I might have been a better person for not having ever heard of it.

When I weigh it all seriously and think of how things might have been, however, this is all rubbish. I remain extremely close with both my parents and my brother, as much as I was before the Internet invaded my life.

The Net been an invaluable resource for me, something that has benefited my studies as well as my character through all the years I have been using it. I remain a smarter and more educated person for having it.

Ooh, look. Quake 4 is coming out. Better go call Dad.


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