Elon University

One Week on the Internet in 2001: The Evans 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 have yet to not be able to find something I’m looking for online. It’s the biggest library in the world. One of the most pleasing things about the Internet is that you can find the words to songs that have been driving you crazy.” -Rick Evans

Evans Family Photo By Brad Pinkerton

Point. Click. Their Christmas shopping is finished. Point. Click. Their next vacation is planned. Point. Click. A brother in Europe has just been brought a little closer to home through an e-mail.

Carrie and Rick Evans find that the Internet brings more than information into their home; it brings a bit of simplicity into their lives.

Knowledge, information and e-mail

With a family comprised of three young children, a mother dedicated to caring for them and a father who is a doctor on call much of the week, things can get a little hectic in the Evans household. While the Internet can’t babysit the kids, have dinner ready on time or take care of a patient in the middle of the night, according to Carrie, it has made handling daily tasks a little easier.

“The Internet has made a lot of things more convenient,” Carrie says. “We bought all of our Christmas presents online this year, and it saved a lot of trouble.”

Carrie is a former teacher who now spends her time at home caring for their three children, Austin (5), Andrew (2) and Emily (five months). Rick is a board-certified obstetrician who often finds himself away from home, working late hours during the week. Rick and Carrie purchased their first home computer about six years ago while living in Asheville, N.C. At the time, Carrie used the computer for online banking and word processing. Prior to that, Carrie began using the Internet at an elementary school in Greenville, N.C., where she worked as a third-grade teacher and sixth-grade science teacher from 1990 to 1994.

Carrie and Rick first considered bringing the Internet’s wealth of available information into their home about three years ago. “We first went online for the knowledge and information that was out there,” explains Carrie. “E-mail was a big thing too.”

Carrie says she began using e-mail when her brother, Jeff, was in Paris. “He was going to be gone for six to eight months, and e-mail was kind of our way of keeping in touch with him.” Rick also began exploring the Internet by sending e-mails while he was in residency in Asheville.

Various uses for the Internet

Today, Carrie’s primary use for the Internet remains the same, typically signing on to send an occasional e-mail to keep in touch with family and friends. She admits she doesn’t use it much. “I should probably get into using it more. It’s easier than sitting down and watching the news, since we have to watch ‘Rugrats’ all the time,” Carrie says. “Maybe a few times a month I’ll get on and do something big.”

Rick, on the other hand, finds himself exploring the Internet several times a day, looking up stock information, reading and sending e-mails and keeping up with the latest headlines. He often finds himself online at home late at night when he is on call and can’t go to sleep. In addition to their home computer, he also uses his computer at work, which is connected via network, for quick and easy access to news and headlines several times daily. “You can get addicted to the Internet and keeping up to date,” he says.

Austin, the eldest of their three children has not yet begun to explore the Internet, but Carrie says that will probably change next year with his entrance into the first grade. “We will probably start doing homework on the Internet, and we will have to start doing more policing then too,” she says. Just as the Internet and its technology have changed over the years, so have Rick and Carries’ uses for it.

Since their first experiences with cyberspace, the couple has found a variety of uses for the Internet in their daily lives. In addition to doing shopping online, Rick and Carrie have planned several vacations, mostly golf trips, using the Internet to find information on airfare, hotel rooms, rental cars and golf packages. They say that their next trip may be to Disney World or the Bahamas for their 10th Anniversary but, either way, they will definitely use the Internet to plan their travels.

Frustrations also to be found online

Although they say they appreciate the many conveniences of having a plethora of information at their fingertips, Rick and Carrie admit that they have their share of frustrations with the Internet.

Because they have a dial-up modem on their home PC, the Evans say their connection to the Internet is often slow and tries their patience. One of the days they kept their Internet-use diary for the Elon-Pew Internet Study, Carrie tried to get online for 20 minutes without success.

“I find the computer to be very frustrating,” says Carrie. “I just don’t like to wait for things. A faster service might be better for us because I sometimes feel like I could go and look it up in a book faster than I could go and look it up on the Internet.”

Carrie often goes online in the middle of the day, when Internet traffic is heaviest, causing connections to run slower. She says she feels that the constant waiting while online is a factor that keeps her from signing on more than she does.

Carrie also says she feels the Internet pulls Rick away from the rest of the family too long at times. “It isolates us a little bit; I get mad about that,” Carrie says.

Rick admits that he was surprised by the results of his Elon-Pew Internet study diaries and just how many times he used the Internet each day, but he explains that he often gets online late at night when he is on call and cannot go to sleep. “Here’s the thing,” says. “I didn’t get breakfast until 5:30 tonight, but I used the Internet two or three times over the course of the day.”

Despite drawbacks, Internet is worth it

Even though Rick and Carrie have not found the Internet to be perfect, they say their investment in a home computer and paying for monthly Internet service provider fees has been well worth it. “I have yet to not be able to find something I’m looking for online. It’s the biggest library in the world,” Rick says. “One of the most pleasing things about the Internet is that you can find the words to songs that have been driving you crazy.”

Reservations about information, services online

While Rick is pleased with the amount of information available on the Internet, Carrie is happy it actually works. “I’m amazed that you actually order things and they come to your door,” says Carrie.

This past Christmas, all the gifts Rick and Carrie ordered online arrived safely to their recipients, however both say they still have reservations about some of the services and information on the Internet.

“I’m careful about where I get my information. Most of the stuff I put any credence into is the medical stuff,” Rick says.

When shopping online, they are careful not to give out too much information and they typically use well-known retailers if they are required to give a credit card number.

The Internet’s impact on society

Overall, Rick and Carrie say the Internet has had a tremendous impact on society. “This has become a clichÚ, but it has made the world a smaller place,” says Rick. “I can go online, find a Japanese Web site and look up a Japanese newspaper.”

Carrie adds that she looks forward to the future of the Internet: the recent merger of Time Warner and America Online; the Internet and cell phones joining in an all-encompassing wireless network.

But even with all the new technologies developing within the Internet, Rick and Carrie say that using e-mail and reading the headlines will probably remain their two most important reasons for going online.

Their next project might be planning a special trip for their Tenth Anniversary.

Where will they go? What will they do?

No problem. Just point and click.