Elon University

One Week on the Internet in 2001: The Thompson 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.

“We have always been very conscious of the Internet and the time it can take. It can suck you in and we recognized that and did not want it to do that. We purposely make sure that doesn’t happen.” -Julianne Thompson

Thompson Family PhotoBy Mike Holt

Three-year-old Noah and 10-year-old Justine watch TV in the living room and see a commercial for pizza from Pizza Hut. Noah is craving a big slice of pepperoni pizza, and he begs his mother for a slice. Juliann reaches into the oven and pulls out the homemade pizza she has prepared for her children.

The Thompson children have celiac disease, which eliminates gluten – wheat, rye, barley and oats – from their diet. Restaurant food, cereal, pizza and cookies are certainly out of the question unless prepared by mom in her gluten-free kitchen.

Recently two Pizza Hut salesmen were going door-to-door in the Thompsons’ neighborhood. They asked Juliann if her family liked pizza. Immediately the answer was “yes,” but there was a catch. Pizza does have gluten in it, and Juliann had to quickly explain that her children had celiac disease. One of the pizza salesmen quickly replied, “So your children cannot have gluten,” which totally surprised Juliann, who was accustomed to people not understanding about this allergy. She quickly asked if they offered any pizza that was gluten-free, and they had to reply “no.” Juliann told them that she had to make her own pizza for her children. The two gentlemen said they would not take up any more of her time and promised not to return.

A bold new future on the Internet

Paul and Juliann Thompson had no desire to get online until they found out from friends that you could find a wealth of health-related information on the Internet.

The Thompsons have four children. Justine is a fifth grader at Elon Elementary. Eli, 7, is a second grader, while his brother Jacob is 5 and just starting his grammar school years in kindergarten. Noah is the youngest. He attends St. Mark’s Preschool. Paul, 39, is an IS director at Labcorp. Juliann, 40, is a homemaker who spends quality time on the Internet searching for recipes and tips to better her children’s health.

Juliann often gets online to see if she has e-mail from listserv buddies. She has found a listserv centered on conversations and comments by people who must deal one way or another with celiac disease. She says she finds this very useful when trying to plan meals and find health techniques to improve her family’s way of life.

Paul and Juliann bought their first home computer in 1987. Over the years since then, three more computers have entered their home.

They purchased their first computer to learn more about computer use. Paul was working with computers every day at work, and he wanted to teach Juliann how to use a computer and to learn more himself.

You can often find Paul reading PC World to see what new ideas and inventions are coming out in the computer-based world.

The Thompsons have two computers in their home at this time. A Dell Laptop can be found in the kitchen, and there’s an upgraded computer in the master bedroom that boots up to the AOL Web browser when first turned on. The homepage address shows the Indian Guide Tribe that Eli and Jacob are involved with.

Jamming to Jimmy, dunking with Duke

Paul likes to listen to Jimmy Buffet while he looks up sports news at sites such as ESPN.com and CNNSI.com. He has become an avid Duke Blue Devils fan since the Thompson family moved here from New England about two years ago.

He got his first experience of Tobacco Road last year, when he went to Cameron Indoor Stadium to watch the Blue Devils play. He was blown away by the Cameron crazies and the atmosphere that college basketball brings to this area. He recently saw Duke play Illinois in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Paul is still a Boston Celtics fan, and likes to listen to live broadcasts of a sports talk show in the Boston area via the Internet.

He says that in the New England and Boston areas pro sports are very big and that college sports are not in demand as much as they are in North Carolina and in the South.

Paul gets information about what he’d like to look up on the Internet through television, newspapers, radio, billboards and e-mails on a weekly basis. Juliann gets ideas for the house through Better Homes and Gardens. The celiac listserv also provides a helpful information center listing Web sites to browse for nutrition information.

Backstreet Boys, Alta Vista and Google

When Paul listens to live broadcasts of Jimmy Buffet on the Internet, he sometimes pulls Juliann into the room to have her listen to the soothing sounds of “Cheeseburger in Paradise” even if she doesn’t want to.

Justine likes to rock to her new Backstreet Boys CD while playing on the computer or checking her e-mail. Juliann and Paul have been planning to attend the next Jimmy Buffet concert that comes to the area. They have been checking ticket prices online at Ticketmaster.com.

Juliann likes to use Yahoo and AOL search engines when looking up or searching for information. Paul likes to use Altavista and Google. Google has become his favorite search engine over the last few months.

Justine likes to use AOL for Kids when she is online. Her Internet use is very basic but she has started to get online in the computer lab at Elon Elementary School. The browser Justine’s class has been using is Yahoo. The students at Elon Elementary often go online to find useful information for classroom exercises.

Internet security is not a worry right now

The family does not have any concerns about security on the Internet to this point. Paul and Juliann do think that if they would connect to faster connections such as Road Runner that they would invest in additional software to protect personal information from hackers.

Paul and Juliann say they would like to create their own Internet site to put pictures on the Web so that family members living in the New England area can keep in touch and see what is going on in their lives. Paul has started creating that personal site, but it is still under construction. He is eager to use the Kodak digital camera he received for Christmas from Juliann and the kids to post family portraits on the Web.

Diary keeping was relatively simple

Juliann and Paul said their participation in the diary-keeping process for the Elon-Pew Internet Study was pretty easy. Juliann said she discovered she wasn’t on the Internet as much as she thought she was. The couple said the study made them think about how they use the Net. The only thing they might change is that they would like to start paying bills online.

“We have always been very conscious of the Internet and the time it can take,” Juliann said. “It can suck you in and we recognized that and did not want it to do that. We purposely make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Paul and Juliann spend a lot of time with their four children. The family does not rent movies or go to films on a regular basis. They do spend quality time at the library. The most important feature of the Thompson family is that they do not believe their use of the Internet divides or isolates anyone in their close-knit family.

Folks are uncomfortable with the digital age

Paul said his parents are old-fashioned and they are not interested in the Internet or even computers for that matter. He said his parents and many people from the older generation are uncomfortable with computers.

“My mother came here back in September or October,” he recalled, “and she is very interested in birds, so I was trying to show her what she could do on the computer with birds. It is just a totally different mindset for them to learn and it’s very hard for them to learn.” Paul’s mother was very confused regarding the fact that the information was on the Internet, not the actual birds. Today’s generation has grown up with computers and the Internet. It is harder for some people in older generations to grasp the concept of the Internet.

Paul and Juliann have talked to their neighbors about their participation with the study. Most of their neighbors and friends are participating in the study and can relate to the experiences that the Thompson family is going through.

Internet brings many things to this family

Paul and Juliann initially became interested in the Internet because they knew they could find information on how to give their kids the best possible diets imaginable.

They have discovered that the Internet can be used as a tool to find that Jimmy Buffet concert or to acquire tickets to his next show. E-mail has let Juliann, Paul and Justine communicate with friends and relatives from the New England area.

Without the Internet, Paul would not find up-to-the-minute sports news, and Julie would be without her listserv buddies who can give her the recipe for that great gluten-free cookie mix.

The Internet has had a gigantic impact, even though the family does not spend hours upon hours of time on the Internet each day. One bit of information from the Net could save Paul and Juliann hours of researching in the library or the timely, expensive long-distance phone calls they might have had to make to food companies to make inquiries regarding their family’s gluten intolerance.

The Internet has been a quiet companion that has allowed the Thompson family to enjoy many healthy meals and spend quality time together.

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