Elon University

One Week on the Internet in 2001: The Rankin 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 ethnographic 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 is very valuable to us. It is especially key to my work, and you can get a lot of value out of it at home as well. You can shop until you drop over the Internet, and you can meet all sorts of information needs.” -Matt Rankin

Rankin Family PhotoBy Ivan Jerinic

Delores and Matt Rankin enjoy going online to connect with people, but they don’t use Internet simply for communication, they use it for shopping as well. They have purchased a computer printer, hiking boots, beef jerky, lathe parts and many other things on the Net.

Matt is the most active user in the Rankin family. He considers the Internet to be vital for both his work and his hobbies. The Rankins are a warm family with love and a great passion for life. They are blessed with three little children: eight-month-old Alexander, busy little Benjamin, 3, and kindergartner Emily, 5.

Totally invested in the possibilities of the Internet world, the Rankins have found themselves enjoying the connections they find online. One of their shopping and surfing sites is eBay. They have been members of the eBay community for quite a while, and buy many things there.

“EBay was the coolest thing on the Net a few years ago, and it still is great,” said Matt. “It has a bunch of interesting stuff you can buy. ”

E-mail is good in business, but other contact still vital

Matt is impressed with the variety of sites offered on the Internet and the way it is growing daily.

He spends a great deal of time at his job writing and reading e-mail correspondence with clients of AKG America, where he works as a sales manager. “I use e-mail a lot,” he smiled. “In my work, I usually send as many as 20 to 30 e-mails a day. I like doing it, because there are a lot of things I need to do. I used to have to make a lot of quick phone calls or go and ask somebody some of these things. Now it is more efficient to send them an e-mail, and they respond to me with e-mail, so I have the responses all set in writing.

“You have to be careful with e-mail, though, because it is a very impersonal communication tool, and it should not be completely relied upon in inappropriate situations.”

Matt cites sending proposals to customers as an example. “I always follow up a proposal with a phone call, or personal visit,” he explained. “Trying to gauge their perception of the proposal via e-mail does not allow you to easily gauge any emotion. With a personal visit, or sometimes even a phone call, you can more easily determine whether they like it, whether the price is competitive, whether they have doubts about the proposal.

“The tone of their voice, choice of their words, hesitation in their conversation, all provide cues that can tell you that you made the sale or that you have more work to do, or that it is time to give up, and try again under different circumstances.”

Hobbies made better with the Net

Matt enjoys playing guitar and doing woodworking. At home, he uses his computer to find interesting songs or and to track down woodworking tools.

He collects antique tools, which he likes to refurbish and then use to making items for his home. He has made a table, a cradle, salt and pepper shakers and some decorative items.

His last project was a replica of a 19th century porringer tea table in cherry. He is currently making a pair of walnut Hepplewhite candle stands for his master bedroom.

Working together online

Matt and Delores say they enjoy going online together to comparison shop, do research and make purchases. Delores generally goes online during the day while her youngest children are napping or in the evening, when they are asleep. Sometimes she surfs with them looking on.

She does not have as much time for the Internet as Matt does, but she is trying to keep up with him.

She says she hopes the Internet will provide a number of new features in the near future. “I’d like to see voting online; children could receive their school grades over the Internet; and home delivery of groceries,” she requested.

Matt says he is still satisfied with the old-fashioned way of buying groceries, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like shopping online. His favorite spot is eBay, where he spends most of his time when he is doing Internet shopping.

Among the purchases the Rankins have made online are a computer printer, 35mm camera, hiking boots, coffee, antique woodworking hand tools, an egg cup set, music book, child’s tool set, lathe parts, and beef jerky. They have even had a pair of shoes re-soled. They connected with the repair company online. The company sent them a mailer in which to put the shoes. They mailed them in, and the shoes were returned with new soles.

Sharing a passion for music

A few years back, Matt spent some time as a professional musician, playing in a band. He still plays occasionally in a neighborhood band. His passion for music has led him into a long-distance Internet relationship. “I e-mail a friend in Germany,” he explained, “and we tell each other about new guitarists, or albums that have some good guitar playing.”

Matt learns songs mainly by listening to them and then playing them by ear. He used to get his music from CDs and tapes, but he now has a new source, “I use Napster,” he said. “One night I spent 12 hours downloading songs. I usually take 20 or 30 minutes finding songs that I want and then just let Napster download them. I do it overnight, since most of the songs take a long time to download. In the morning I can check them out, and if some have failed I start them up again.”

Matt’s favorite groups are ZZ-Top and Van Halen, and his favorite guitarist is Steve Vai.

Woodworking tools are cool

Matt and Delores both like antiques. Matt’s mom and her sister began running a booth at an antique mall several years ago. Most of the antiques came from their overstocked private collections, or from yard sales and auctions. When Matt’s mother’s health started failing about four years ago, it became harder for her to get around to yard sales and auctions. His mother discovered that she could bid online for antiques at eBay. Soon afterward, she purchased her first home computer, and even got a high-speed Road Runner cable Internet connection.

“I thought that it was so neat that the Internet allowed my mother a tool that allowed her to keep up her hobby,” Matt said. “It was also neat that she pretty much learned it all on her own, having never used the Internet before.”

She’s the one who got Matt hooked on collecting antique woodworking tools. “She was buying antiques online and telling me about it,” he explained. “I started at first just to see what she was looking at. She called me one time to place an order because she couldn’t. Once I looked at the content she was looking at, I started looking for things I was interested in.”

Matt sticks to using hand-working tools as much as possible. They are safer, and more relaxing to use, he said, because they don’t make all that noise.

“I think the most interesting thing to me about having these old tools is just knowing somebody else used it to do this same work by hand,” he explained. “I try to imagine the type of furniture they made with it.”

Net has become a part of their lives

The Rankins have been Internet proponents since they first got online. Their participation in the Elon-Pew Internet Study allowed them to take a look at how they use the Net.

“The Internet is very valuable to us,” Matt said. “It is especially key to my work, and you can get a lot of value out of it at home as well. You can shop until you drop over the Internet, and you can meet all sorts of information needs.

“The Internet has brought a lot of positive changes to our lives.”