Elon University

One Week on the Internet in 2001: The Santos 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 can isolate you from your immediate family, but not from your distant family. It can bring families together in that sense. You just have to be aware that it could be absorbing. If you are, you should not face too many problems.” -Pris Santos

Santos Family PhotoBy Kim Eagens

With the smell of fresh cooking dinner filling the air and their playful Shih Tzu, Maddy, greeting guests with each ring of the doorbell, the Santos family home offers a warm and cozy feeling for all who enter. As you remove your shoes and step into the formal living room of their household, the off-white, plush carpeting under your feet completes this welcoming environment.

The Santos family had the opportunity to locate, research and purchase this beautiful carpeting for their home using the most popular new tool of the 20th century – the Internet.

“I had looked in the stores for carpeting and thought the prices were a bit outrageous,” said Pris, a Century 21 Real Estate broker and mother of two. “The Internet helped me to find the carpet I was looking for at a much better price.”

Despite the fact they had to find a local carpet installer, Pris and husband Carroll, a sales manager for American Santex, say the price they received online was far better than what they would have paid in local stores.

“The competition is so great on the Internet, and you come to realize, so is the markup on products in the stores,” explained Pris, 46. “It is just easier for me to log on at work or at home and look for information about products than to physically go out shopping for them. Who has the time and why spend the gas?”

They like to compare and save

Carroll, Pris and Emma Santos are a typical American family living in Elon, N.C. Not only have they purchased carpeting via carpetusa.com and capricarpet.com in the past, they also recently researched vehicle prices online using yahoo.com.

“We use the Internet to compare a lot,” said Carroll, 50. “It allows us to be sure we get the best value for our money.” Though the Santos family did not actually purchase their new 2001 Ford Explorer XLT online, Carroll was able to print hard copies of the invoice prices from the Internet to compare with the prices that the dealers were giving him. “It really saved us money in the end,” boasted Carroll.

Currently, Pris and Carroll are searching online to locate and compare prices of condominiums and apartments for her eldest son, Carroll IV, a sophomore at North Carolina State University.

“I like being able to look online,” said Pris, “it’s better than talking to a broker. Why waste an agent’s time when we aren’t even sure if we are definitely going to buy?”

Aware of security issues, but not afraid

Like millions of other Americans, the Santos family also purchased Christmas gifts online this year using sites such as llbean.com and delias.com.

“It does bother me to use my credit card online, but I take the risk because I feel a reasonable sense of security with the company I am dealing with,” Pris said. “I suppose there is so much information on the Internet, I am hoping I personally, or the company I am dealing with, won’t become a target of hackers or computer information theft.”

Though Pris and Carroll are concerned with and aware of Internet crime and the privacy issues faced when putting personal information on the Web, they operate with caution and try not to let it get in their way. “We shop online a good bit,” stated Pris. “We’ve had a good past with it. I just ordered a bathing suit for Emma online from alloy.com because they are not available in most stores yet. She has an upcoming trip to Hawaii and we would have been in a panic had online shopping not been available to us.”

Pris and Carroll say they have always been 100 percent satisfied with their online purchases and claim to have never returned anything or had a delay in delivery. Pris credits this to either her killer instinct about companies she deals with, or possibly just plain luck.

The Santos family is also aware of the fact that the Internet can be isolating. “I have felt all along that the Internet isolates families,” Carroll said. “The Internet can isolate you from your immediate family,” Pris said, “but not from your distant family. It can bring families together in that sense. You just have to be aware that it could be absorbing. If you are, you should not face too many problems.”

Endless possibilities in future

In 1986, the Santos family purchased their first computer primarily to help their son Carroll with school and projects. Since then, Pris and Carroll have purchased three other computers to keep up with the fast-paced technological world.

“Computers have contributed to the impatience of many Americans,” Carroll said. “The first computers were only about 256K, and they’re now into the 700K’s. They can process information so fast that people don’t want to wait for anything any more.” Despite this fact, the Santos family has not hesitated in upgrading to newer computers every few years.

Pris and Carroll currently own four computers. Carroll uses a Gateway Solo 5300 laptop. Pris operates a Compaq Presario 1650 laptop. Their daughter Emma uses a Compaq Presario CDX660. Their son Carroll uses a Compaq PC at school; it was purchased online through eBay.com.

In 1994, eight years after purchasing their first computer, Pris and Carroll decided to spend the $21.94 a month to connect to America Online (AOL) so they could have quick access to information and stay in contact with family and friends. They say these have been the greatest benefits of having the Internet in their home. “There is just so much information at your fingertips,” said Pris.

“The possibilities are endless,” stated Carroll. “There’s almost too much information out there and it’s difficult to decide where to begin. If you think about it, there’s really not much you can’t find on the Internet these days.”

Connected with friends and family

Fifteen-year-old Emma Santos, a Western High School student and dance team member, enjoys using e-mail and AOL’s Instant Messenger (IM) to keep in contact with friends and relatives. She also spends 15 or 20 minutes a night logged onto astronet.com to read her horoscopes.

“Sometimes I don’t even realize how long I’ve been online until I look at the clock,” Emma admitted. “I like IM because I can talk to as many people as I want to at the same time.”

E-mail, which Emma and her family believe has replaced traditional letter writing, has also allowed them to stay in contact with old friends from Cheraw and Charleston, S.C., and distant relatives in Alabama and California.

Since moving to Elon from South Carolina nearly seven years ago, Carroll and Pris, who send on average between five and 10 e-mails per day, also use the technology to stay connected to old business contacts from back home.

“It’s just much easier and quicker to send an e-mail, and I think it’s a great tool,” Pris said. Carroll, an avid business e-mailer, added he would probably be lost without this convenient technology. “E-mail has basically replaced paper within the office,” Carroll said. “People rarely write letters or memos anymore.”

Learning about family background

Genealogy research has occupied many hours of Pris’ time since her introduction to the World Wide Web. She said it has become her most interesting and enjoyable pastime over the last few years, and she adds that this can be attributed primarily to the Internet.

“I became interested in genealogy because a distant cousin from Alabama wrote to my mother for family information,” she explained. “My Mom didn’t mind talking about her family, but I don’t think she really wanted to sit down and write out the details. I gathered information from my brothers and sisters and filled in the blanks with whatever else I could get from my mother and relayed family stories I had heard over the years.

“While genealogy is a very detailed, time-consuming hobby that can involve travel to individual county records offices and libraries, there is a wealth of information online and growing by the minute. I can spend hours at a time researching genealogy online.”

Logging onto sites including familytreemaker.com, ancestry.com and familysearch.com enables Pris to locate such details as cemetery lists, ship passenger lists, census records, military records and social security death index, which help her to learn more about family roots.

In addition, Pris has been able to find addresses for libraries and communicate via e-mail to request research services, county records offices, cemetery offices and even distant relatives by using switchboard.com or the international telephone directories that are also available online.

What’s in store for the future?

The future of the Internet is bound to open even more doors for the Santos family as the years progress. They say they hope to see features such as grocery shopping online, video communication, and retail via the Internet flourish in the future.

“I think e-commerce and communication will continue to revolutionize because of the Web,” Carroll predicts. “The retail economy has and will keep on revolutionizing.”

The Santos family, totally invested in the benefits of the Internet, will continue to e-mail, chat with friends on IM, do work and research their family history.

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