Elon University

One Week on the Internet in 2001: The Vaughn 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’re pretty new to the Internet, I stick to the sites I know and I really don’t try and explore. We’re are not real computer savvy, but that’s probably because it’s all so new.” -Vicki Vaughn

Vaughn Family PhotoBy Corey Bauer

The Vaughns have busy lifestyles, perhaps more so than the typical 2001 family, with mom and dad both working 12- to 14-hour shifts as registered nurses at Duke Hospital. One might wonder why and how they could find time to use the Internet. Perhaps the Internet is the only way such busy people are able to stay in touch. Whatever the reasons may be, the Vaughns find time daily to get online.

Online in the bedroom leads to communication superhighway

It all began in December of 1998, when the Stephen and Vicki Vaughn took the plunge and purchased their first computer. The Gateway computer was located in their master bedroom – a bit out of place for the only computer in the house some may say. Perhaps this would be true, but where’s the only place you would want to be in your house if you just walked in from a 14-hour shift only to have to wake up in six hours to work another one?

The Vaughns got a late start on the computer age, and their first Internet access came even later. It wasn’t until April 2000 that they set up with Bluelight as their Internet service provider. They got connected for e-mail access, but Stephen and Vicki quickly discovered this new communication superhighway would allow much more than that.

Hectic lifestyles leave little time for Internet use

Despite the Vaughns’ awareness of the power of the Internet, they still refrain from becoming avid users. They don’t watch much TV; they rent two-to-three movies a month; and hardly ever get out to see any cultural events. So what’s stopping them from regularly getting online? Part of their lack of use may be attributed to their hectic work environments.

They do find the occasional e-mail and some basic research forays tied to their jobs to make their hook-up worth the investment.

Internet may be saving lives

Stephen and Vicki, both RNs, have found the capability to research medical information online as a helpful new insight into their fields. “We’ve been able to connect to medical information,” said Vicki.

“We can find out about diseases, how to take care of them, where to go.” In addition to doing medical research, Vicki has used the Internet to research stock quotes, plan vacations, take part in polls and surveys, send and receive photos, contact Lucas’s teachers, send greeting cards and still find time to get in that occasional joke that seems to have been forwarded across the entire Web.

A pet peeve: Lack of grammar, spelling in e-mails

Though satisfied with the overall utility of the Internet, the Vaughns are concerned that computers are making people less aware of punctuation, spelling and grammar.

Vicki says because of this she doesn’t necessarily think it is a bad thing that her 11-year-old son Lucas doesn’t spend much time online.

If you can, try to remember back when you were in school and your teachers would say, “If I can’t read it, it’s wrong.” These words died with big hair and jean jackets. With the innovation of spell- and grammar-check on the computer the pastime of proof reading merely represents a few clicks on the mouse.

Directly correlating to the Vaughn’s concern with the diminishing use of proper grammar, Vicki says e-mail has an adverse effect on both formal and informal business writing.

Communication through e-mail has become so overloading in Vicki’s eyes that people have lost all ambition to pay attention to format. “We are not real computer advocates,” says Vicki. “It has a tendency to make people lazy about their writing.”

“I asked my husband what he thought,” said Vicki. “Stephen replied, ‘I don’t really like computers, I think they’re a necessary evil.'”

Vicki does point out that some friends might think her complaints about unreadable e-mails are pretty humorous. She admits that “the joke around Duke Hospital is, now that we are getting new computers at work people don’t have to worry about having to try to read my writing.”

Further expanding on the loss of proper format and grammar Vicki sees the Internet as going too far to revolutionize our society. “I’m old enough to realize at this point that if something like what the doomsayers were predicting about Y2K were to happen, the whole country would be in the trash can until they could get things straightened out,” she said.

Information is good, transactions not so good

Vicki says she is all-trusting regarding the credibility of the information on the Internet. “Unfortunately I trust it a lot,” said Vicki. “I mean I don’t buy anything on the Internet, but I trust everything I read.”

She says that because of security issues she does not perform any financial transactions online.

The Internet solves its own problem

Vicki said she doesn’t see the Internet as causing any isolation problems within her family, accept for the occasional busy signal due to them being online, but this problem was dealt with by Vicki.

“I downloaded that call-wait for while you’re online,” she explained. “Now we don’t have to get another phone line, and I can still get my husband’s messages while I’m online.”

Point A to Point B proves not to be so clear cut

It seems as though Vicki discovered a few things she never realized over this past week when she had to pay attention to her specific Internet use. “I thought I spent a whole lot more time on the Internet than I really do,” said Vicki.

“I thought I was e-mailing a whole lot more than I really am. I never realized all the time it takes to wade through all the trash in your e-mail. I don’t like wading through all that trash.

“When I downloaded that call waiting for while I’m online, I had to go through all these loops and hoops just to get to the Web page I needed.”

Take it or leave it?

Their newness to the Internet, their bustling work schedules and their desire to enjoy what little free time they have may make it seem that the Vaughns would lean toward “leave it” in respect to the Internet, but they say this could all change in the next year. Vicki said there’s a chance they will get into it more when they get the opportunity.

“We’re pretty new to the Internet, I stick to the sites I know, and I really don’t try and explore,” she explained. “We’re are not real computer savvy, but that’s probably because it’s all so new.”

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