Elon University

One Week on the Internet in 2001: The Higgins 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 really just wish we had a lot more time to spend with the girls to show them what’s available on the Internet. “I don’t think we can even fathom what our children will do online.” -Susan Higgins

Higgins Family Photo By Crystal Allen

Christmas shopping. The phrase inspires thoughts of long lines, crowded malls, and evil salespeople for most. Not for the Higgins family. They shop from the comfort of their own home. “We bought about 20 presents online this Christmas,” said Jim Higgins. “It saves time,” Susan said, “and it’s so convenient.”

Although some of their family is frightened by the threat of credit card fraud online, Susan and Jim agree that they rarely have had difficulties with online shopping. “Occasionally we don’t get responses. Like something will be out of stock,” Jim said. That does not stop the Higgins family from continuing to shop. They have purchased everything from computers and fax machines to clothes and scooters online.

“From Thanksgiving all the way to Christmas,” he said, “we are on the Internet more than anyone I know.”

Jim also shops online for work. “Anything big from cameras to computer pieces, I’ll look on the Internet for,” he said. He recently purchased two fax machines for his office online.

Freedom of speech vs. a separate Internet

Jim, the director at an area Hospice, and Susan, a middle-school guidance counselor, have two children. Maureen, 11, uses the computer occasionally to write e-mails and to do research for school projects. Hillary, 7, rarely uses the Internet.

The only computer problem at the Higgins house is deciding which one to use. They have three computers, including one that James purchased online. On any given night, Jim may be upstairs on RoadRunner looking at car shows, while Susan is downstairs working on the Alamance Burlington School System Web site.

With both RoadRunner and America Online, the Higgins family does not have a problem getting online. “It is good because I and one of the girls or both of the girls can do things at the same time,” Jim said.

The only fear Jim and Susan say they have regarding the Internet is for their children. In order to protect them from Internet crime, these parents sit with their children when they are on the Internet. When that is not possible, they rely on America Online’s guardian software to watch over Hillary and Maureen.

“I really just wish we had a lot more time to spend with the girls to show them what’s available on the Internet,” Susan said. “I don’t think we can even fathom what our children will do online.”

Online, Jim says he is frustrated by “the number of people trying to push adult sites. Things that wouldn’t normally come up in searches and things, do. That bothers me a little.” Both Jim and Susan advocate a separate Internet entity for adult content.

Vacation is just a click away

The Higgins family recently took a trip to Disney World. In preparation for the trip, airline and car rental reservations were made online. Jim also printed off maps of the park so the family could decide where they wanted to go first. “I wanna see Mickey,” said Hillary.

Last summer, the family went on a cruise that Jim found online. “That was one vacation that we didn’t want to leave,” Susan said. The cruise had many family activities planned, and without the Internet, the trip would not have happened.

“The Internet is a great source of information for travelers. You can just about find out anything there is to know about a particular area from the net,” Jim said. His favorite travel sites are Travelocity, AOL Travel, and UsAir. He uses these sites for comparison-shopping. “Sometimes you do get different rates at different places,” he said.

Keeping in touch

Susan and Jim both check their e-mail frequently at work. “The school system now almost exclusively communicates by e-mail,” she said. “I’m on all day long.” Jim checks his e-mail about six times a day.

Besides using it for work, during the day they will e-mail each other. “It’s made life better for Susan and I in some ways because a lot of the time when I get home from work, she’s got the kids, dinner’s going, homework has to be done. By the time we get them to bed, we’re just conked out and we communicate by e-mail at work about things we never get any time to talk about otherwise,” James said.

It also provides the Higgins family with a way to keep in touch with friends all over the United States. They have lived in Alabama, Texas and Michigan.

Susan also keeps in touch with her daughters’ teachers on the Internet. It has not yet become commonplace for most parents though. “It’s probably because it’s so easy for me to do,” Susan explained. She is connected to the Alamance-Burlington School System server through work.

Jim, the most tech-savvy according to the rest of the family, created a Web site, but never published it. “I could never get it to work like I wanted it to,” he said, “I was going to try to share vacation pictures with other family members.”

Getting into family dynamics

“I do feel the Internet isolates us,” Susan said. “I have to watch when I’m on there.” Jim agreed, “I can lose myself in it.”

Susan and Jim also agree that the location of the computers in their house creates an isolating effect. “I go upstairs and get away from everyone because that’s the fastest connection,” Jim said. “I suppose we could move that.”

Despite all of this, they said investing in a home computer and an Internet hook-up was a good idea. “It’s money well spent,” Susan said. “Especially the time we save at Christmas and planning trips.”

In the future, each family member is looking forward to different new technologies. Maureen and Hillary agree that having a class Web site where they can see their homework assignments is something they look forward to.

“For them, I really look forward to distance learning,” Susan added, “and what will be available to them.” Jim anticipates the use of Webcams. “I’m really looking forward to the day when the video with family members becomes more commonplace and user friendly,” he said.

The Higgins family favorite sites:

Car Design News 

NC Public Schools
Food TV


Nick Jr