Elon University

One Week on the Internet in 2001: The Wall 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 speeds things up and makes some things more convenient, but then it’s like when you’re at work and technology speeds your life up so they expect you to take on more. I think in our life that happens too. It opens up time, and that time … gets stuffed with something else.” -Cathy Wall

Wall Family Dog PhotoBy Nicki Watkins

Watch out UPS deliverers! Be prepared when you stop at the Wall household, because the first family member to greet you out in the front yard will most likely be Jackie Chan. No, this is not the famous actor. Jackie is a huge, playful golden labrador, and she can knock you right down with her joy at your arrival.

During the past holiday season, the Wall family avoided doing much of their Christmas shopping at area malls. They decided to go online to order Jackie a two-foot-long dog bone for her birthday – which just happens to be Dec. 25. There is not much left to show of it now, but Jackie routinely jogs towards the UPS deliverer in hopes that he is bringing her more delicious bones. This is just one of the many items that the Wall family orders for their pet at jbpet.com.

With a click of the mouse, Cathy Wall can buy Jackie’s health and grooming necessities, household items at Our House and the Hoover Web site, or other gifts at Amazon.com. “We don’t do a lot of Internet shopping,” Cathy admits. “But at Christmas I did a lot because Amazon had free shipping if you ordered $100 worth of stuff.”

Like most children, Josh and Alex Wall, ages 10 and 7, wanted scooters this past Christmas. “They wanted a specific color, and I thought how easy it is that I could get it. They shipped it here,” Cathy recalled, “and I got a $10-off coupon versus running around here looking for a blue and a green scooter. That helped a lot.”

Haleakala here we come

Shopping is not the only Internet attraction for the Walls. With visions of Maui’s waterfalls and hopes of seeing Hawaii’s famous volcanoes in her mind, Cathy set out to plan a fantastic trip to the Pacific. In March 2000, the Walls’ long-awaited dream came true.

Had it not been for e-mail, the trip would have been much more difficult to plan. Part of their stay in Hawaii was spent with one of Cathy’s college roommates, who has lived in Hawaii for the past seven years. Because of the large variance in the time zones, e-mail made communication between the two much easier, also eliminating costly phone calls.

Although her friend pointed out some key tourist attractions for the Wall family to note in planning their trip, Cathy also toured Hawaii on her own previous to the family trip by checking out various sites on the Internet. “My friend gave us suggestions,” Cathy said, “but we left a few days open in Maui to explore and do things we discovered.”

One of the things the Wall family did was attend the Old Lahaina Luau in Maui. This was an activity that Cathy had booked online. She also used the Internet to find information on condos, even the particular one they stayed at in Maui. “For the most part, the information on the Internet was accurate. Maui was in a drought, which they didn’t report. Of course, they didn’t want to deter anyone from coming,” Cathy reported.

This trip was not the first in which the Internet has come in handy for Bert Wall. As a senior vice president and regional corporate banking officer at Wachovia Bank, he has often found it necessary to travel. Bert has used the Internet to research four air trips, and he has also booked three other air trips online.

It’s not all fun and games online

Both Cathy and Bert are very business-oriented individuals. He is online almost every day at his work. With his job, he often finds it helpful to use Yahoo and Investor’s Chat in working with the bank’s financial matters. Before she started her recent career as a stay-at-home mom, Cathy worked at NationsBank for 14 years, and used computers much of that time.

Both enjoy trading stocks online, something that they have only been doing for around a year, but to which Bert comments, “Too often!”

With so much personal information floating around on the Web, some might be leery of trading stocks and giving out other financial and personal information over the Internet, but regarding these security issues, Bert said, “A lot of it is common sense.” However, Cathy also stated, “If we go into something online and it keeps asking us personal questions, we leave it alone.”

Josh likes the Lego site, and he does school research

Josh and Alex also have their own computer to use these days. It was a Christmas present from their grandmommy. Eagerly joining the conversation, Josh said, “I go on the Internet a lot.” Josh is also a huge Lego fan, frequently visiting the toy company’s Web site, lego.com. He also goes on the Internet to check out other toys or to get game codes at gameboy.com.

Josh said Microsoft’s Encarta is a beneficial Web resource when it comes to doing projects and homework. He found the Internet to be especially helpful when he had to write a paper about a first-generation American who had just come to the United States. Cathy’s sister, a genealogy guru, recommended a Web site for Josh to try. “We went on this site, and there are discussions people had had,” Cathy explained. “You could pull off who he had married, when they think he came over, where he landed when he came over, and maybe where he was in England. It’s amazing.”

Josh eagerly added that he also uses the computer for his book reports. He once had a to do an assignment stemming from “Old Yeller,” and was asked to investigate information about Texas and surrounding areas.

Alex is younger, and rarely uses the Internet. Alex and her mom occasionally use Instant Messaging to talk with her grandmommy, even though she only lives about two miles away. Although Alex seems more content playing outside or watching television right now, Cathy seems to realize that this will likely change. “I noticed my niece, 13, is on Instant Messenger every night, talking to her friends,” Cathy said. “She’ll stay on for hours, like we used to do on the phone when I was growing up.”

The cost of Internet convenience

Bills can often cause people’s stomachs to churn, but for the Walls, paying for the Internet is worth the cost. “I guess it’s like your phone bill,” Cathy said. “You just have it. I bet I’ve paid for two months of Internet cost in the savings that I got shopping. So it pays for itself in that way.”

The Walls also have fewer reference books as a result of the Internet. This is another reason why they consider it a worthy investment.

Despite all the benefits and that come with using the Internet, one wonders if Cathy and Bert fear what their children may be able view online. For the time being, they are not too concerned about monitoring their children’s Internet use. Cathy said she believes that “it’s just like anything else in life. They [children] have to understand what’s appropriate and what’s not.”

Bert finds another flaw. “It’s just one more step in a technological process that’s taking us apart from each other and speeding up our lives,” he said.

“The Internet speeds things up and makes some things more convenient, but then it’s like when you’re at work and technology speeds your life up so they expect you to take on more,” Cathy said. “I think in our life that happens too. It opens up time, and that time … gets stuffed with something else.”

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