Elon University

One Neighborhood, One Week on the Internet: The Study

Seven days, two dozen homes: Interviews and diaries illuminate societal effects of new medium

This is a revealing, detailed 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 two dozen Elon, N.C., households. Entry and exit interviews and the family members’ daily diary entries have been woven into the individual magazine-style stories on each family you will find on this site. Details from the families’ diary data are also included on this site.

The Study Team

Ashley Woods Neighborhood Group PhotoThe “One Neighborhood, One Week on the Internet” study was created and carried out by 25 students of the Elon University School of Communications, led by faculty member Janna Quitney Anderson. The study is part of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, led by Harrison “Lee” Rainie and senior research specialist Dr. John Horrigan. The Washington D.C.-based Pew initiative explores the impact of the Internet on American society.

Methodology and Results

This study is the first ever to document Internet users’ personally recorded observations over a span of eight days combined with in-depth interviews. Participants took part in long, focused entry and exit discussions which were sandwiched around a solid week of time-use diary keeping.

The student researchers gathered data daily from assigned families, wrote feature stories about those families and also wrote personal stories about the impact the Internet has had on their own families’ lives, providing the perspective of the emerging generation of Net-savvy users.

Most of the Internet users who participated in the project say going online has transformed their lives in some way: providing crucial health information; facilitating vacation planning, job searches and house hunting; transforming shopping habits; changing the way they operate in the workplace; and, most importantly, increasing communication between family and friends through e-mail and instant messaging.

E-mail is replacing letter writing for many of the people in this study, but they say that because it is convenient and quick, they are actually communicating more often with far-flung friends and relatives than they did when limited to using the U.S. Postal Service for written communication. Many Internet users say they now have newly renewed ties or closer ties with friends and relatives, often in states thousands of miles away or in foreign lands.

Many of the people in this study say the Internet is an empowering, freeing information utility. It allows them to communicate at their convenience and do astounding amounts of research in various areas of interest – including a vast supply of potentially life-saving or life-altering medical information.

Sharing Their Experiences

Read some or all of the 50 feature stories here and discover many anecdotes involving the Net and its impact. You will find out about:

  • People with family members facing cancer, fibromyalgia, celiac disease and febrile seizures who used the Internet to research medical facts and communicate with others who face the same conditions.
  • People who planned and/or booked complete vacation packages to Disney World, Nashville, Washington, D.C., and Hawaii using Web travel sites.
  • Several family members who were able to locate long-lost friends or relatives using Web people searches, and many who have done genealogy research online.
  • Several families who have located and/or purchased specialized products and services, such as new and used cars, antique tools, topiary design, digital sound editing equipment, beef jerky and particular styles of carpeting and drapery fabric. One family even located a product liability lawyer to consult about an accident.
  • Youngsters who gather all the information, graphics and photos they need to complete school projects for elementary and middle school.
  • Several families who conduct daily communication with friends and relatives who live around the world, and some who have weekly instant messenger meeting times during which far-flung family members regularly get together online to have chat sessions.