Elon University

One Week on the Internet in 2001: The Folger 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.

“The Internet, it could really change everything, our whole physical world. I think that it’s a mindset getting on the computer, it’s just different, it’s a different way of thinking, and I think our kids are going to grow up just thinking that way.” -Kiki Folger

Folger Family Photo By Erica Stanley

Hershey, a six-year-old, hefty-sized half-lab barks loudly and jumps all over. Four-and-a-half-year-old, Daniel, walks jovially around in circles while eating a brownie, what dad, Steve, refers to as his “nutritious lunch.” At first glance, this busy yet comforting atmosphere fits the norm for American households. However, the Folger household might not have appeared as picture perfect four years ago.

This is the time when Daniel, then nine months old, was diagnosed with febrile seizures, a condition related to high fevers.

“I felt like I wasn’t getting the information I wanted. I wanted to know everything, all the information, not just what I needed to know to take care of him that day. So I used the Internet as a resource,” Kiki, a pediatric physical therapist, said. “I could use this in my home while he was napping or at night to find information.”

Kiki says she believes the Internet allowed her more control and power over her son’s condition. “I would have felt a little more helpless if I had had to drag him to the library, and I guess that’s what I would have done” Kiki, 34, admitted. “But, it would have been much more difficult for me to get the information.”

Working and shopping online

While Daniel’s seizures are what provoked Kiki to go online, Steve, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Elon University, had been online for some time due to his job.

“My first time using the Web was just to see what was out there, looking at new Web sites, seeing what people were putting out there with their own Web sites and things,” Steve, 34, recalled. “My primary reasons were work-related though, to connect up to the departmental system and for e-mailing back and forth at work.”

The Folgers, now on their second home computer, an Insight Pentium 250, are finding the Internet to be helpful in many walks of their lives. “When I’m in the market for something, I look online,” Steve said. “Currently I’m looking to buy a new computer, and I’ve been doing some research.”

Steve has found pros and cons of using the Internet for shopping while searching for that new computer.

“Looking online, there are more options, you can compare many different systems and companies, can easily customize your system and see the new price, and there is the convenience of not having to leave your home or office,” he said. “But it is difficult to get specific questions answered unless you call or e-mail someone at the site, and it’s hard to get a feel for the actual size of the monitor and computer.”

The Internet also came in handy as the Folgers made modifications to their home.

“We just remodeled our kitchen and we couldn’t find the type of hinge we needed,” Kiki said. “So, Steve went to the company’s Web site and found them.”

E-mailing keeps family in touch

Being online has allowed Kiki and Steve to keep in touch with college friends, plan family vacations and even find a long-lost pal.

“We lost one of our friends, we didn’t know where he was or what he was doing, and some of my girlfriends called and said I was in charge of finding him,” Kiki recalled. “We actually found him through a search on the Internet, and then I called him.”

E-mail has helped keep the Folger family connected to others through computer screens, and in person.

“We’re planning to go to California this summer for a conference and we have a friend in San Diego,” Steve said. “She sent us a Christmas card and included her e-mail address, so we plan to get in touch with her through e-mail and hope to plan a visit with her while we’re in California.”

While many families find that using the telephone serves as the easiest way to stay in touch with others, in some cases the Folgers disagree. “We have one friend who just hates to talk on the phone,” Kiki said. “If it wasn’t for the Internet, I don’t know if we’d ever keep in touch.”

Kiki also finds e-mailing to be more efficient than letter writing. “I’m a poor letter writer; at least when you sit down to the computer, everything you need is right there,” she explained. “If you write a letter you have to find the stationery, go find a pen that works; it’s just easier to get on the Internet.”

Citing the Internet as a connector in society

While some studies, such as Norman Nie’s work for Stanford University, have found the Internet to be a contributor to social isolation, the Folgers have not found this to be true. “No, It doesn’t isolate us,” Steve said.

Kiki agreed, “Daniel and I, the times we’ve gotten on, we’ve done it together, so that brings us together. And a lot of times if I’m on the computer, frequently Steve has to come in and help me with this or that. We did the shopping together… so the things we would normally do together, we are. Online.”

Based on what she has seen with others using the Internet, she says that she does not believe it is isolating them either.

“My experience with life is, people who tend to be more extroverted and want contact with people are gonna get that,” Kiki said. “People who are more introverted are going to use the computer in different ways, but perhaps they are making more contacts with people. They may not all be verbal or physical, but I bet you they are making more contacts than they would have without it.”

Kiki goes on to explain why she disagrees with the notion that the Internet is harming society. “I would doubt the severity of the impact, I don’t think we’re all going to become isolated, because it is human nature to need other people,” she said. “Even my friend, who doesn’t like to talk on the phone, if it wasn’t for e-mail, would we ever talk?”

Realizing the downside of the technology

While the Folger family has benefited from the Internet in positive ways, they are aware of the downside of the technology. Issues of Internet crime and loss of privacy, along with questions regarding the validity of the information found online are of concern to them.

“I have fears about it, but then again, it’s like anything in life, if someone wants to hurt you they will, the Internet just gives them another mode,” Kiki stated. “But, I don’t think the Internet is bad, I think you do have to be cautious.”

As far as protecting the young Folgers, Daniel, 4 1/2, and Eric, 11 months, from the dangers of the Internet, Steve and Kiki are already taking action. “We have a Kid Desk now,” Steve said. “We’ll probably use some form of filter when they are older.”

The Kid Desk feature allows Daniel access only to certain things available on the Internet. “He just explores. We want to limit and give him boundaries,” Kiki said. “One day, I went in – he was three – he had moved all the little icons to the other side of the screen. He did that just by fooling around. He wasn’t afraid of it.”

Trusting information online

While the Folgers do seem to rely pretty heavily on the Internet and its wealth of information, the family does realize that everything online is not legit.

“I take any information that comes off the Web as questionable, but usually – like with the medical information I got – there were so many sites on febrile seizures, and I think there was verification in numbers,” Kiki said. “There were certain sites giving the same meat-and-potatoes information. Once it is repeated, you kind of just give credibility to numbers.”

Steve often gives credibility to information on the Internet that is associated with a well-known name. “I do rely somewhat on where the site is,” he said. “If it’s a company, group or society I am familiar with, I trust that more.”

Still reading books

The Folger family, while taking advantage of all the Internet has to offer, has not lost sight of the traditional means of entertainment. Fitting the findings of a recent study by Forrester Research which indicates that e-books will not replace the traditional paper models for some time to come, the family still prefers reading books the old-fashioned way.

“It’s more comfortable to sit in your den with a book,” Kiki said. “There’s something about the concreteness of a book, the Internet is just kind of out there, but a book, you can see how long it is.”

The Folgers still subscribe to a newspaper, and Steve agrees about the tactile advantages of traditional print publications. “It’s still nice to feel the page,” he said.

Helping in times of need

The Internet has proved to be an efficient form of communication for the Folgers, but more importantly, they credit it with helping provide beneficial information in times of need, such as when Daniel was sick as an infant.

“Even though in one breath I’m saying the Internet gives you too much information, on the other hand, I feel like it’s a good place to go to get a holistic view on things,” Kiki said.

“Nowadays, your doctor can only spend so much time with you, you have to be more responsible for your health.”

In need of faster connections

Daniel, has begun to enjoy the capabilities an Internet connection can provide. “Now that he’s older, he’s interested in dinosaurs, and anytime he has an interest, we’ll go on the Internet and look it up,” Kiki said.

“I find it difficult to sort through it all when I have a three-year-old, and he’s on my lap while I’m searching for things, because he does not want to wait for stuff.”

Dad, Steve, also becomes impatient with slow Internet connections. “I would say the speed of the Internet is the biggest frustration for me,” he said. “Because at work I have a T3 Internet connection and here at home I have a dial-up modem.”

Looking toward future developments

Along with faster connections, Steve also looks forward to more interactive ways of life through future Internet developments. “I look most forward to doing things like voting and banking online,” he said, “as long as they take the measures to make us all comfortable and secure.”

Kiki, on the other hand, is still enjoying discovering what the Internet can provide us with today, and is perhaps more hesitant to conduct business via the Internet.

“I can’t hardly look forward, I’m still trying to figure out what’s happening now,” she said. “With banking and stuff, I don’t know, I just don’t trust a computer that much.”

Regardless of what future developments in Internet technology take place, Kiki and Steve said that they believe the Internet will grow to hold a larger place in their lives once their children are older.

“Well, I’ve just been thinking about how our lives will change as the kids get old enough to really use it,” Kiki said. “It isn’t now, but I believe it will become a living and breathing type thing, I know we will all use it more.”

Realizing the Internet’s impact

The Folgers not only realize the impact the Internet has and will continue to have on their own family, but also its effects on society.

“I think the Internet has revolutionized our society, and I believe the change is still happening,” Steve said. “We can see its impacts in education, industry, the stock market. Its part in the information age has definitely impacted us.”

Thinking of all the limitless possibilities the Internet could provide, Kiki says she realizes what a significant role the technology could play in everyday life.

“The Internet could really change everything, our whole physical world,” Kiki said. “I think that it’s a mindset getting on the computer, it’s just different. It’s a different way of thinking, and I think our kids are going to grow up just thinking that way.”