Elon University

One Week on the Internet in 2001: The Wood 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.

“My computer at work came over on the ark with Noah. I’ll enter as many as 200 invoices a day, but when I come home and use the computer, Chuck and the kids think it’s the funniest thing in the world because it does, the computer actually intimidates me.” -Frances Wood

Wood Family PhotoBy Lee Serafini

Traveling down Route 66 isn’t what it used to be. At least that’s what Charles and Frances Wood hope to find out.

After working his way up through the ranks in a 20-year Air Force career, Major Charles Wood retired from the Special Operations Force in May 1971.

He had served for a year in Vietnam as a crew member on a C-123 cargo aircraft, and over the length of his service he was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses, six Air Medals, a Bronze Star, the Air Force Commendation Medal and three Vietnam Combat Medals.

He attended Elon University and graduated with honors in 1974. He next had a second career with Cone Mills, working as an accountant in its corporate headquarters before retiring a second time. He now spends his days enjoying the quiet life.

Frances has worked for Carolina Biological Supply Company, handling important tasks such as payroll, insurance and accounts payable over the past 29 years. She plans to join Charles as a retiree in the near future.

Web will be a tie to family

Because of their busy careers, the two travel lovers have only made nine cross-country ventures, and they say they have never had the desired time to stop and take in where they’ve been. Big travel times loom ahead. Frances said she has a great desire to return to all the places they lived while in the Air Force: Texas, California, Mississippi, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Spain.

They have a computer they use rarely now, but they say they plan to go online to keep people posted when they hit the open road after Frances retires. They say the Internet won’t be used to map trips and book accommodations, instead they expect to use it to keep their family abreast of their whereabouts – a sort of “Where are the Woods?” type of Web site. All of their four grown children are Internet users.

They figure they will need to acquire a new laptop to accomplish their goals. In December, Mrs. Claus almost put one under the Christmas tree.

“We’re going to buy a laptop, in fact I was going to get it for Chuck for Christmas,” Frances said. “But our son in Virginia said to wait until spring because everything is changing so fast.”

The Woods, with the help of that Virginian, their second son, Dave, are planning to start up a Web site complete with pictures and descriptions of places to which they’ve traveled and those they plan to visit. It will be a roadmap so their family is able to follow them as they criss-cross the country.

There will be no mobile homes or trailer parks for Charles and Frances. Because of Charles’ military career, they are able to take shelter at any military installation in the country where space is available.

This isn’t so bad, said Frances. It’s not the Ritz, she explained, but where else can you get two bedrooms, a kitchen and two TVs for $13 a night?

Getting an extremely early start

Charles and Frances purchased their first computer in the ’70s, but it wasn’t because they were dying to get connected.

At the time, Carolina Biological operated an Apple dealership above its main office. Frances let their youngest son, Jim, wander upstairs visit with the sales consultants. His two brothers and sister were out of the house by then, the oldest married and in the Air Force, his sister Debbie and his brother Dave in college. Those visits to the Apple store snowballed into the Woods’ buying their first computer for $3,000.

“Jim, who’s now 32, was our only child still living at home, and at that time Carolina Biological had a computer store that was an Apple dealer,” Frances said. “He would go up and spend his evenings with the young guys in the computer store and they would let him mess with the computers. The result was I bought an Apple IIE.”

Their first machine was archaic by today’s standards, but served its purpose. The children were able to write papers and play some simple games. At that time, the Internet was nonexistent.

“Our first computer wasn’t Internet capable. It didn’t have a modem or much of anything,” Charles said. “We didn’t use it much so it didn’t matter. Our sons graduated from high school and college and were gone.”

Finding their way onto the Internet

Charles and Frances made their first upgrade since the ’70s in 1997, when their son Dave gave them a Compaq Presario complete with color monitor, modem and a mouse.

Although they haven’t exactly taken the digital-era bull by the horns, the Woods haven’t been spoon-fed the new technology. In fact, they were basically thrown into the ring without any instruction.

“When we got this computer, Dave said, ‘Here it is, and here’s how you get on the Internet,'” Charles said. “That’s why we’ve been exploring and trying to find out where we are.”

Charles has time to Web wander

Time to play around on the Internet can be hard to come by for someone who works a 9-5 job and enters data all day every weekday into a cold, unresponsive machine. Frances doesn’t use this an excuse for her lack of expert Internet skills, but reflects on it in a humorous manner as a hurdle to overcome.

“My computer at work came over on the ark with Noah,” Frances exclaimed. “I’ll enter as many as 200 invoices a day, but when I come home and use the computer, Chuck and the kids think it’s the funniest thing in the world because it does, the computer actually intimidates me.”

Charles, on the other hand, was a bit more free time to wander through the vast web of the Internet. He spends 20 to 30 minutes every morning checking his e-mail and the local news. Then it’s off to Washington and The Washington Post to keep up with action on Capitol Hill.

The Internet takes little of his time. Throughout the day, Charles finds other activities to keep busy. Call it old-fashioned, but chores and outdoor activities make down time much more constructive than watching TV or using the computer.

There is one Internet chore Charles never misses out on: checking his potential winning numbers. Yes, he plays the lottery, and he uses the Internet to check out the numbers because he is trying to win the Virginia pot of gold.

He drives north and crosses the Virginia border every couple of months to make his potentially lucky picks at many different places. “I’m just waiting to win the big one,” Charles said. “If it happens, that’s it.”

Grandson is a grand helper

The Woods’ move to the digital information age has come with some youthful help. They say the real computer whiz in the family happens to be their 12-year-old grandson whose computer knowledge is nothing short of mastery.

“He can take the computer apart and put it back together without having any pieces left over,” Frances said. “So I was going to get him to teach us something just about the basic Internet.”

E-mail is useful, but it’s not the only way

The Woods say e-mail can make it much easier and faster to keep in touch with their children and grandchildren. In fact, they said they visit with their family and friends more now than they ever have before.

“Even with a typo or two, e-mail is still much more legible than my handwriting,” Frances joked.

The Woods aren’t staying isolated from the Internet, but they aren’t jumping at the chance to build it into every aspect of their lives as some Internet adopters do. They consider it to be a useful tool for certain purposes, but they generally stick to doing shopping and much of their communication the old way.

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