Elon University

One Week on the Internet 2001: The Blair Family

This feature article about Internet use at the turn of the millennium is part of “One Neighborhood, One Week on the Internet in 2001” a revealing, detailed study of Internet use during the week of Jan. 12-19, 2001, by 24 upper-middle-class families in a small-town neighborhood. The information here was gathered through interviews and the completion of time-use diaries by individual family members in one of two dozen Elon, N.C., households. Entry and exit interviews and the family members’ daily diary Internet-use entries were woven into individual magazine-style stories on each family by the ethnographic researchers who completed this study.

“I don’t even think it’s scratched the surface yet. I just think its really going to change the way we live and the way we do business.” -Jason Blair

Blair Family Photo By Heather Kennon

Barb Blair got into it because of Lotus spreadsheets and recipes. Her husband Jason says it seems like he’s been using computers forever. Little did they know the sort of impact the Internet would have on their lives.

Eleven years ago, Jason and Barb purchased their first Hewlett Packard personal computer primarily so Barb could do her job at home. She was working as a computer manager, compiling information listings of raw materials on spreadsheets.

“Once it was determined that certain components were obsolete, I would set up a Lotus spreadsheet with a part number, quantity, unit cost and extended cost,” she explains. “These lists were sent to other companies who may be able to use our obsolete parts.” After the lists were completed, Barb would print out the spreadsheets and fax them to the companies. Thanks to her home comuputer setup, she didn’t have to travel anywhere with the lists and still had time to do several things around the house.

Introduction of the Internet brings astonishing change

In 1997, the Blairs joined the ranks of Internet users. Their primary reason for going online was “because it was there,” explained Jason Blair, 40. Jason had already been using e-mail at work. He was able to share the information he had learned with his wife.

Just months before their initial plunge onto the World Wide Web, Barb decided to indulge her love for cooking, drop the spreadsheets and pursue a baking career. She opened her own business in late 1996 and called it BABS – a name recommendation from her sister, who said, “Barb’s Always Baking Something.” Barb made various delicious and tasty cakes and desserts, and with the introduction of the Internet in her household in 1997, she was able to find quite a few recipes to add to her budding collection. “I found a key lime pie, pumpkin pound cake and a chocolate layer cake on the Internet,” says Barb, 41.

Jason and Barb say they have benefited a great deal from the use of the computer and the Internet. He now works as a financial adviser at a local business, Raymond James Financial. Jason had a computer locally built by Comtech Computer in Graham, N.C., to assist him in his financial advising. In the course of business, he is able to use private secure sites within his company to extract information that will better serve his clients.

Jason and Barb use America Online as their Internet service provider at home. Jason uses Microsoft Outlook at work. Quite often, the two use AOL Personal Finance and Yahoo Personal Finance as search engines to research different companies financial status. By doing a search on a company’s ticker symbol, they are able to research the abundant amount of financial Web sites to find all the information they need. “The information is unlimited,” says Barb. The information they acquire from these sites is used to make important financial decisions as to which companies are best suited for investment opportunities.

Corey and Ryan get on the Net

The Blairs have also introduced the Web to their two sons, 12-year-old Corey and 11-year-old Ryan. “I would rather my kids be on the Internet than watching TV. I don’t really have fears about the sites they go to,” Jason says. “I think that the parental control that works is that they understand that you are able to figure out where they’ve been. I think that is the ultimate parental control.”

The sons are not quite as active Internet users as their parents, but they too use the Internet as an educational source. Both sons are extremely active sports players. Corey plays on a basketball team, an AAU traveling basketball team, a football team and a lacrosse team. Ryan plays on two different basketball teams, will soon be on the AAU traveling team and plays baseball in the summer. Both boys are fans of the Carolina Tarheels. They use the Goheels.com Web site to research information on the team. “We look up schedules, times, statistics, etc.,” explains Ryan.

Ryan is a fan of NBA star Vince Carter, who used to play for the Tarheels. He finds himself going to the Vince Carter Web site to check out Carter’s career. Recently, Ryan has researched Henry Ford for a school book report. He did a search at encyclopedia.com to find a timeline of events that happened in Henry Ford’s life and a picture of him as well.

Corey also did a search at encyclopedia.com to find as much information as possible on Marco Polo for a school report. He, too, uses the Internet to find interesting facts about the Carolina Tarheels and how they are doing. He came across a great screen saver of the team’s mascot to download onto the computer and use as a background. “I use the Internet to look up schedules and scores and things like that,” Corey says. “I also use Napster to play songs while they are downloading.”

In addition to browsing the Internet for information on teams and school reports, Corey was able to create a fantasy football team with the aid of the Internet. His team was named “The D Town Dogs.” “With fantasy football, you can create a team in a certain league, pick your players and keep up with the statistics of your football players,” Corey explains. “After every Sunday night NFL game, each player’s statistics are updated. You can go in and check how your team is doing and trade players with other people in your league if they are willing.”

The family researched several weather sites on the Internet recently. Corey was going on a skiing trip at the Winter Place Ski Resort in Flat Top, W.Va. With the aid of the Internet, they were able to look up ski conditions for the upcoming journey.

Planning a Fan Fair journey to Nashville

The uses of the Internet in the Blair family are uncountable. Just this past week, Barb was planning a trip to take her sister To Fan Fair, a country music festival in Nashville, Tenn., for her 40th birthday.

“We are going to the TNN Country Awards Show which is on June 13th,” Barb explains. “Then on June 14th and 15th we will be attending the concerts at night in the Aldelphia Coliseum, where the Tennessee Titans play. There are approximately 10 different stars appearing each night. For example, Travis Tritt, Lonestar, Vince Gill, Martina McBride, etc. My sister will actually be there on her 40th birthday, June 15th.”

With just a point and click she was able to connect and find all the information she needed to get ticket, hotel and airfare information. “I was able to find all the information I needed before I actually called and reserved the tickets,” explains Barb. “Once I had purchased the tickets, I was able to pull up the Ticketmaster Web site and find out exactly where our seats were located,” she says.

Key advantages of the Internet – speed and e-mail

E-mail and the speed of the Internet have both been major components in the Internet for the Blair family. “Speed is key,” says Jason. A few days ago, Barb and Jason were interested in getting some travel details regarding Bald Head Island. “I e-mailed somebody about the information I needed,” Barb says. “If I had written them a letter, it would have taken three days to get there and then they would have to write back. I sent an e-mail at 11 a.m., and had a response by 2 p.m. It was awesome!” With the speed of the Internet and e-mail, they were able to get all the information they needed.

The Blairs have family all over the United States, from Ohio to Maryland and from the Carolinas to Florida. They are able to connect through AOL and chat with loved ones with just a click of a button. “My mother, sister, aunts and myself have a scheduled time every night at 8 p.m.,” Barb says. “We can log on to chat. As each person comes in, it sounds like a door is opening, and the door shuts when they leave.”

Those select family members know they can log on at the set time and chat through Instant Messenger. Barb doesn’t have a chance to go on every day, with all the hustle and bustle of everyday activities, but she tries to use AIM a couple of times a week.

The entire family uses e-mail to connect with people around the U.S. Corey and Ryan can write to their cousins, and Jason and Barb can keep in touch with their family and friends. It has made it convenient for the Blairs to share parts of their lives with their loved ones on a regular basis.

Jason says the use of e-mail has helped him out tremendously at work. “You can copy a letter to someone and ask them what they think, and they can change the letter and send it back to you and say, ‘This is what I think you ought to say.’ It’s a paperless transaction where nobody talks,” Jason explains. He says there is no doubt that e-mail helps make business transactions faster and easier.

The Internet and alluring online classes

Universities and colleges all over the world are now offering online courses. Jason Blair found this option to be the most appealing and convenient for him to further his education. He took part in a one-year Web advanced-study program to earn the professional designation CRPC, Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor, from the Course of Financial Planning through the University of Arizona.

“This was a great way to be able to get my CRPC,” he explains. “I was able to study on my own schedule, going into the office and using my computer on weeknights and weekends. It would have been very difficult for me to actually go to classes at a set time every day. By using this Web-enhanced study program, I was able to finish the course in six months rather than one year.” He says that soon much of higher learning may be done over the Internet rather than in a class setting.

So far, the Blair family has adapted Internet use to be a daily part of their lives, and they say they know they will continue to do so in the future. “But, I don’t even think it has scratched the surface yet of what it’s going to do,” predicts Jason. “Everybody’s cell phone will be able to access it. You’ll be able to sit here and watch TV. If you want to surf the sites with a picture in a picture, you’ll be able to do that. That technology is already here, but it’s not available yet. I just think it’s really going to change the way we live and the way we do business.”