Elon University

One Week on the Internet in 2001: The Fleming 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.

“What’s pretty neat about Instant Messenger is when you get online you can see if they are online too, and if they are online, then you may chat for three to five minutes and move on. I think it bridges more traditional communication.” -Ed Fleming

Fleming Family Photo By Sean Gill

There’s a Carolina Tar Heel Flag proudly on display outside, and a basketball hoop in the driveway. It looks like the typical Carolina residence, but this light-blue, upper-middle-class home, hasn’t always been as rock-solid as it looks today.

During a vicious wind storm that swept through Elon University last year, the house came under assault, and a good portion of the roof was torn off. The Flemings were forced to live outside their home for six months, while insurance matters were settled and repairs took place.

Today the Fleming house is filled with warmth. There’s a new baby in the family, and two other youngsters running around. Madeleine, 6, and Robert, 4, make it certain that there is never a dull moment in the daily activity of the Flemings’ lives.

The household is led by Ed, a 31-year-old salesman, and Amy, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom. Amy has her hands full with three children ages 6 and under. Larkin is the 3-month-old, the brand-new addition to the family.

Ed and Amy have been going online as a family since 1996, using their Pionex 233 computer.

The Internet is an important tool in the Fleming Household. The family has used it for information gathering – for instance, to look up a rare skin disease Larkin has contracted – and for e-mail and Instant Messenger communications with family in Atlanta and Florida.

The Flemings appreciate the Internet. “When we found out Larkin had Hemangionoma, we didn’t know what it was,” Ed said. “We pulled that up on the Internet … it’s pretty rare, but the Web gives all sorts of information about it.”

Long-distance relationships have been enhanced with the Net. “What’s pretty neat about Instant Messenger,” Ed said, “is when you get online you can see if friends are online too, and if they are online, then you may chat for three to five minutes and move on. I think it bridges more traditional communication.”

Madeleine and Robert are old enough to get on the Internet to look for cartoons. Ed or Amy are always there when their children go online, to guide them in the right direction. “When Madeleine is online, I’m there beside her,” Ed said. “When she gets older, 8 or 9, we’ll probably have a Web browser that will suit kids.”

Ed and Amy also do some shopping online. They did almost all of their Christmas shopping online two years ago, but did less this year. Amy goes shopping every now and then for jewelry, and she also checks up on information about Larkin’s skin condition.

“I love the fact that you can get information on just about anything in a moment’s notice,” Amy explained.

The Flemings say their computer has brought the family closer together, because they spend time using it together with their children.

Amy admits she used to use the computer more when it was located downstairs in the living room. Now that it is located upstairs in the family playroom, it’s not as convenient to use. Most of Amy’s household duties keep her downstairs in the house.

Ed got his start on computers more than a decade ago. “I took a computer class back in college during 1990, and dialed up into college systems for the first time back in the mid-’90s,” he recalled. It was in the days when Prodigy first came out, and Ed said he thought it was pretty neat.

What surprises Ed the most about the Internet? “I guess the overall expansion, and overall use,” Ed explained.

Today he jokes about how he would have invested his savings differently had he had known about the economic explosion wrought by digital information technology.