Home Internet Use In Low-Income Families:

Home Internet Use In Low-Income Families:

Frequency, Nature, and Correlates of early Internet Use in the HomeNetToo Project

 

 

Linda A. Jackson

Gretchen Barbatsis

Frank Biocca

Yong Zhao

Alexander von Eye

Hiram E. Fitzgerald

 

Michigan State University

 

HomeNetToo is an NSF-funded project designed to understand the antecedents and consequences of home Internet use among low-income families.  In this report the results of the first six-months of server-logged measures of Internet use, and survey and demographic measures are presented, along with ethnographic accounts of participants' experiences with the Internet.  Findings indicate that Web activities are more popular than e-mail, and that race, age, and education influence the frequency of Internet use.  Participants' descriptions of their experiences with the Internet speak to the importance of universal access and the need to design technology better adapted to the user.

 

KEYWORDS: Digital divide, Internet use

APPROXIMATE WORD COUNT: 7900

SECTION: Alternate Track: Global Community

 

Linda A. Jackson

Department of Psychology

Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI 48824

517-353-8690

jackso67@msu.edu

 

 


HomeNetToo is a research project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF-ITR, #0085348) to investigate the antecedents and consequences of Internet use by families on the "other side" of the digital divide.1   In December 2000, computers and Internet service were provided to 90 low-income families in the midwestern U.S. who agreed to have their Internet use continuously server-logged, and to complete surveys at several points during an 18-month trial.  This report focuses on the first 6 months of home Internet use by adult family members, many of whom were first-time users.2   Specifically, it focuses on the frequency and nature of Internet use, demographic correlates of use, and quantitative and ethnographic accounts of experiences with the Internet.

            The Carnegie Mellon University HomeNet project served as a model for HomeNetToo (1).  Until now, it was the only research project that automatically logged frequency and nature of home Internet use.  Findings from the first HomeNet study (1995-1996, 48 families) indicated the people used the Internet about 1 hour/week in 2 sessions, visited 2 domains, and sent less than one e-mail/week (0.47).  Listserv and newsgroup activity was infrequent. Comparable data for the HomeNet Study 2 (1998-1999; 216 families) have yet to be reported (2).  Other findings from the project indicated the variety of ways that people use the Internet at home, summarized by the researchers as follows:  "People use the Internet for pleasure: to communicate with family, friends, and strangers, to track sports and popular culture, to listen to music, to play games, and to pursue specialized interests.  These pleasurable uses supplement and, for many people, are more important than the practical uses of the Internet for jobs, school, and shopping" (homenet.andrew.cmu.edu/progress/). 

            Two other large-scale research projects have investigated how the "average" American uses the Internet at home.  Both are based on self-reported Internet use.  The Stanford University study, released in early 2000, used a national probability sample of the general U.S. population and Internet technology (InterSurvey) to administer surveys to both users and nonusers (3).  Based on the responses of 4,113 adults (2,689 households), findings indicated that approximately 66% of users reported using the Internet less than 5 hours/week.  The most common use was to obtain information (products, travel, hobbies, and general information; 100% of users), followed by e-mail (90%).  Entertainment was a distant third (33%), followed by shopping online (25%) and chat (20%), the latter activity dominated by "under 30" users.   Demographic characteristics explained differences in access to the Internet, but not in its use, leading the researchers to conclude: "once people are connected to the Net they hardly differ in how much they use it and what they use it for, except for a drop off after age 65."  However, statistics on demographic characteristics by amount and type of Internet use were not provided, nor was information about refusal rates, which are likely to be higher among nonusers than users.  

In late 2000, UCLA published its first Internet report (4), which was based on random digit dial (RDD) phone interviews of 2,096 households of users and nonusers.  UCLA researchers found that, on average, people spent 9.42 hours per week on the Internet, with time online increasing with Internet experience.  For example, users with more than 4 years of experience used the Internet 16.2 hours/week whereas those with less than one year of experience used it 6.1 hours/week.  The most frequent Internet activities were Web surfing or browsing (82% of users) and e-mail (82%), followed by finding hobby information (57%), reading news (57%), finding entertainment information (54%), and buying online (52%).  Less than half of the interviewees reported using the Internet for travel information (46%), instant messaging (40%), medical information (37%), or playing games (33%).  As in the Stanford report and numerous other surveys (5, 6), education and income were related to access to the Internet, although even the least educated and lowest income groups reported using the Internet; 31% of adult respondents with less than a high-school education, and 41% with incomes under $15K were Internet users.  However, as in the Stanford report, statistics on demographic characteristics by amount and type of Internet use were not reported, nor were racial/ethnic group differences.  Gender and age differences were reported.  Men spent more time online than did women and engaged in different types of activities (e.g., commerce, games).  Time online increased between the ages of 12 and 35, and remained at or above average until the mid-50s, when it began to decline. 

Relationships between demographic characteristics and Internet use have been of considerable interest to both researchers and dot.com marketers.  Numerous surveys have focused on income, education, gender and race in an effort to understand differences in the frequency and nature of Internet activities among demographic groups (5-10).  Findings have been remarkably mixed.  For example, a recent report by comScore (5, July 17, 2001), an Internet marketing research group, concluded that "It appears that the less-educated use the Web to amuse themselves and their friends, while the well-educated use the Web as part of their careers."  In contrast, the Stanford study (discussed earlier) concluded that once access is obtained, demographic characteristics are of little importance to the amount and type of Internet use.

A recent report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project described differences in the online behavior of African-Americans and European Americans (6).  Findings indicated that African Americans were less likely to go online in a typical day than were European Americans (36% versus 56%), and less likely to use e-mail (27% versus 49%).  The nature of Internet activities also differed for the two groups.   African Americans were more likely to listen to music, seek religious information, play games, download music, seek information about jobs, seek information about a place to live, and conduct school research and job training.  They were more likely to believe that the Internet helped them to get health care information and information about hobbies, and less likely to believe that it helped them to connect to family and friends.  Again these results appear to conflict with the conclusion of the Stanford researchers that demographic characteristics do not matter once access is obtained. 

Another report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project (7) focused on gender differences in Internet use.  Findings indicated no gender difference in e-mail use, chat, instant messages, browsing for fun, school-related or job-related research, accessing popular culture (e.g., downloading music), and arranging travel and banking.  However, women were more likely to seek health care information, research new jobs, and play games online.  Men were more likely to seek news and financial information, shop, participate in online stock trading and auctions, access government sites, and search for sports news.  

Marketing surveys frequently find income-based differences in Internet use.  A study by Nielsen/NetRatings (8) found that low-income groups spend more time surfing the Web at home than do more affluent groups. Similar results were obtained in a study by Media Metrix, Inc. (9).  Once again these results appear to conflict with conclusions from Stanford study (3).  

Results from the HomeNetToo project, presented next, describe the Internet use of low-income adults using server-logged as well as self-report measures of Internet use.  Relationships between Internet use and demographic characteristics are examined, namely race, education and income.  Ethnographic accounts of participants' experiences with the Internet augment quantitative findings regarding the frequency and nature of home Internet use.

Methods

Participants and Procedures

Participants were 117 adult residents of a low-income, medium-size urban community in the mid-western United States.  In exchange for participating in home visits, completing surveys, and allowing their Internet use to be continuously server-logged, participants received a home computer, Internet connection, and full technical support for the 18-month trial.   Surveys were administered during home visits at pre-trial, 1 month and 3 months, and completed online or on paper. 2

Demographic characteristics of adult participants are presented in Table 1.  Participants were primarily African American, female, never married, working full-time, and earning less than $15,000 annually.  The majority reported having some college education or earning a college degree.  Average age of participants was 38.6 years old. 

            A sub-sample of adults from 30 of the 90 families participated in 2-hour home interviews and observations at the interface.  Interviews were conducted as a conversation between interviewer and participant during which they explored the Internet together.  Interviews were recorded unobtrusively using a small digital recorder and transcribed for content analyses. 

Table 1: Demographic characteristics of adult participants in the HomeNetToo project (n=117)

Age:     Mean: 38.57 years-old; Range:  19 years-old to 75 years-old

Sex:      Male:  20%       Female:  80%

Race:    African American:  67%            European American:  33%

Income (annual household)

Less than $10,000:  28%

$10,000 - $14, 999:  21%

$15,000 - $24.999:  26%

$25,000 - $34.999:  17%

$35,000 - $49, 999:  7%

$50,000 - $75,000:  1%

Greater than $75,000:  0%

Education:

8th grade or less:  4%

Some high school but did not graduate:  10%

High school graduate or Graduate Equivalency Degree:  24%

Some college:  49%

College graduate of above:  13%

Marital Status

Never married:  42%

Married, living with spouse:  25%

Other (divorced, separate, widowed):  33%

 

Measures

Internet use.  A list of server-logged measures of Internet use is presented in Table 2.3  For the analyses, use measures were divided into two time periods:  Time 1: 1-3 months; Time 2: 4-6 months. 

Table 2: Server-logged measures of Internet use (per day)

Time on-line (minutes)

# of session (log-ins)

# of unique domain Web sites visited

# of e-mail messages sent

# of e-mail messages received

# listserv messages posted

# listserv messages received

# of newsgroup postings

# newsgroups read

Total time in chats

# of chats visited


Survey Measures.  Participants completed surveys at pre-trial and 3 months that included the following measures considered in this report:  1) Prior Internet experience (e.g., How would you rate the extent of your experience with the Internet?  1=no experience, 5=a great deal of experience.); 2) Self-reported Internet use (e.g., hours online, previous week); 3) Uses of the Internet (e.g., communicating with family); 4) Demographic characteristics.  In addition, a survey administered at 1 month contained the self-report Internet use measures (e.g., hours online during the previous week).

Ethnographic Measures.  Content analyses of the 2-hour home interviews were guided by an interest in identifying how these adults made sense of the Internet as it intersected their already established and ongoing lives.  General categories of "sense-making" were identified.

Results

The frequency and nature of Internet use based on server-logged measures are summarized in Table 3.  Omitted from the table are measures of listserv, newsgroup and chat activities, which were essentially zero.  Thus, the Internet activities of these first-time home users focused on Web activities and, to a lesser extent, e-mail.4

            As indicated in Table 3, participants initially spent an average of 41.51 minutes/day online in a single session, visiting about 9 domains.  Time online did not change significantly from Time 1 to Time 2.  Sessions became somewhat shorter, and the number of domains visited became somewhat greater, but these differences were not statistically significant. 

            E-mail activity during the first 6-months of home Internet user was infrequent.  During both time periods, participants sent about 3 e-mails per week.

            Also evident from Table 3 is the high variability in Internet use among project participants.  For example, 25% of participants spent essentially no time online, whereas another 25% spent over 36 minutes/day online.  About half the participants never used e-mail.

Table 3: Internet use  

 

00

Time 1

 

00

Time online (minutes)

# of

sessions

# of domains visited

# of e-mails sent

# of e-mails received

Mean

00

41.51

1.00

9.05

.39

1.78

Std.Dev.

00

87.79

1.47

13.40

1.07

3.97

% tile

25

2.45

.09

.66

.00

.12

 

50

12.25

.47

3.48

.02

.41

              

75

36.47

1.31

11.14

.22

1.22

 

00

Time 2

Mean

00

43.53

.74

10.94

.36

3.31

Std.Dev.

00

96.15

1.03

17.06

1.36

8.11

% tile

25

1.21

.04

.50

.00

.14

 

50

12.70

.34

4.24

.00

.47

 

75

46.25

0.98

13.24

.22

2.14

Note:  Values are averages/day.  All measures were automatically server-logged.  Std.Dev.=standard deviation.

The correlation between self-reported time online and server-logged measures was .49.  The correlation between self-reported and server-logged number of sessions was .71.  These findings are comparable to those of the HomeNet project (.55 and .42) and, taken together, suggest that self-report measures of Internet use are moderately reliable.

            Participants' self-reported Internet activities are presented in Table 4.  Consistent with server-logged measures, none of the activities was reported as "frequent."  Five activities were engaged in "sometimes:" getting information about interests/hobbies, getting information about a product, e-mailing friends, playing games, and listening to music.  Note, however, that the latter two activities may be computer rather than Internet activities. The least frequently engaged in activities were viewing pornography, creating a Web page and getting job training.

Table 4:Mean level of Internet activities

Type of Activity

Mean

Std.Dev.

E-mail friends

2.83

1.45

E-mail family

2.58

1.41

E-mail people at work

1.79

1.24

Communicate with strangers

1.71

1.19

Mailing List activities

1.68

1.06

Getting help with a personal problem

1.75

1.07

Getting information I need for work

2.19

1.32

Downloading software

1.98

1.18

Getting information about interest/hobbies

3.05

1.22

Getting information about a product

2.84

1.19

Getting information about continuing education

2.49

1.29

Getting information about job opportunities

2.51

1.36

Reading the local news

2.20

1.21

Finding out about the weather

2.30

1.23

Doing school/course work

2.00

1.30

Viewing pornographic material

1.21

.68

Listening to music

2.77

1.47

Playing games

2.82

1.42

Visiting chat rooms

1.82

1.08

Reading newsgroups

1.81

1.02

Buying a product

1.81

.99

Getting information about government/politics

1.70

.93

Taking a course/viewing educational material

1.88

1.19

Creating a web page

1.31

.73

Getting job training

1.37

.78

Filling our forms

2.08

1.14

Getting information about parenting

1.71

1.11

Getting information about health of health care

2.26

1.22

Note: 1-5 rating scales were used; 1=never, 3=sometimes, 5=often.  Std.Dev.=standard deviation.

Prior experience

            Four questions on the pre-trial survey measured experience using the Internet prior to participation in the project.  Measures were combined (averaged) for the analysis (alpha=.94).  Mean, median and modal values for the composite measure indicated that, as expected, participants had little or no prior experience using the Internet (1.92, 1.75, 1). 

Prior experience was related to the number of e-mails sent during time 1 (r=.30), and to all measures of Web use during time 2 (time online, r=.28; number of sessions, r=.22; number of domains visited, r=.26), but not to e-mail use (r=.08).   Thus, prior experience using the Internet was a poor predictor of early home Internet use, except for e-mail, but a modest predictor of later Web use. 

Demographic characteristics

Race.  Correlations (Spearman) between race and Internet use (log transformations) were significant for number of sessions at time 1 (r=.19), and for all Web use measures at time 2 (rs=.27, .31, .23, time online, number of sessions, number of domains visited, respectively).  Mean levels of Internet use are presented in Table 5.  One-way analyses of variance indicated that over time, African Americans used the Web less than did European Americans.  Thus, while there were no significant race differences initially, after 3 months of home Internet access African Americans used the Web, but not e-mail, less than did European Americans. 

Table 5: Race and Internet use

 

 

N

Mean

Std. Dev.

F(1,103)

Time 1

Time online (min.)

AfAm

78

42.73

100.89

1.64

 

EuAm

38

39.01

52.53

 

# of sessions

AfAm

78

.84

1.25

3.59*

 

EuAm

38

1.31

1.82

 

# of domains visited

AfAm

78

7.92

12.34

2.67

 

EuAm

38

11.36

15.28

 

# of e-mails sent

AfAm

78

.34

1.04

1.28

 

EuAm

38

.48

1.14

 

Time 2

Time online

AfAm

79

42.08

111.19

6.48*

 

EuAm

38

46.55

53.92

 

# of sessions

AfAm

79

.56

.91

9.70*

 

EuAm

38

1.10

1.16

 

# of domains visited

AfAm

79

9.12

16.28

5.44*

 

EuAm

38

14.73

18.22

 

# of e-mails sent

AfAm

79

.24

1.03

1.76

 

EuAm

38

.60

1.85

 

Note:  AfAm=African Americans; EuAm=European Americans.  Std.Dev.=standard deviation.

F-values are for the analyses of log transformed data.  *p<.05.

Age.  Age was related (negatively) to number of sessions and domains visited at both time periods, although only time period 2 correlations approached significance (rs=-.18, -.17, respectively).  Mean levels of Internet use for participants under 38 years old (median age) and those over 38 (Table 5) indicated that older participants used the Internet less than did younger participants, especially during time 2.

Table 6: Age and Internet Use

 

 

N

Mean

Std. Dev.

F(1,103)

Time 1

Time online (min.)

Under 38

54

44.61

71.42

1.00

 

38 and over

61

39.05

101.22

 

# of sessions

Under 38

54

1.27

1.84

3.02*

 

38 and over

61

.76

1.03

 

# of domains visited

Under 38

54

10.97

14.44

2.59

 

38 and over

61

7.38

12.40

 

# of e-mails sent

Under 38

54

.55

1.20

1.68

 

38 and over

61

.25

.94

 

Time 2

Time online

Under 38

54

.55

1.20

1.68

 

38 and over

61

.25

1.00

 

# of sessions

Under 38

54

.88

1.15

3.86*

 

38 and over

62

.62

.91

 

# of domains visited

Under 38

54

13.57

19.50

6.00*

 

38 and over

62

8.63

14.54

 

# of e-mails sent

Under 38

54

.37

1.36

.08

 

38 and over

62

.35

1.38

 

Gender.  There was no relationship between gender and Internet use. 

Education.  Education was related to Internet use at time 2 only.  Greater education was associated with more time online (r=.26), and more sessions (r=.27).  Mean differences (Table 7) indicated that participants with a high school education or less spent less time online and had fewer Internet sessions than did participants with more education.

Table 7: Education and Internet use

 

 

 

N

Mean

Std.Dev.

F(1,103)

 

Time 1

Time online (min.)

High school graduate or less

42

35.76

64.27

.24

 

 

Some college

58

48.08

105.29

 

 

 

College graduate or more

15

33.32

75.54

 

 

# of sessions

High school graduate or less

42

1.02

1.60

.20

 

 

Some college

58

1.05

1.55

 

 

 

College graduate or more

15

.75

.65

 

 

# of domains visited

High school graduate or less

42

10.13

15.24

.91

 

 

Some college

58

9.62

13.58

 

 

 

College graduate or more

15

3.95

3.28

 

 

# of e-mails sent

High school graduate or less

42

.23

.64

1.41

 

 

Some college

58

.55

1.38

 

 

 

College graduate or more

15

.21

.47

 

 

Time 2

Time online

High school graduate or less

43

41.75

109.19

4.44*

 

 

Some college

58

41.54

87.84

 

 

 

College graduate or more

15

57.66

95.67

 

 

# of sessions

High school graduate or less

43

.69

1.23

4.81*

 

 

Some college

58

.75

.96

 

 

 

College graduate or more

15

.85

.64

 

 

# of domains visited

High school graduate or less

43

11.84

21.91

1.46

 

 

Some college

58

10.80

14.96

 

 

 

College graduate or more

15

8.83

7.26

 

 

# of e-mails sent

High school graduate or less

43

.46

1.75

.10

 

 

Some college

58

.35

1.21

 

 

 

College graduate or more

15

.16

.24

 

 

Income.  Income was unrelated to Internet use.  

Ethnographic accounts of Internet use

            The content of conversations with participants at the interface was classified into 4 clusters of 10 general subject matter categories.  This report focuses on the first and predominant cluster - Using the Internet.5   Within this cluster participants talked about: (1) how they used the Internet; (2) concerns about the Internet; (3) frustrations with using the Internet; (4) obstacles encountered in using the Internet.

            (1) How participants used the Internet.  Participants' talk about how they used the Internet accounted for 28% of the conversational content and, along with the three other categories in this cluster, accounted for 46% of participants' talk.  Four sense-making categories of use were identified: interpersonal communication, parenting support, practical information, and "other," the latter a diverse category that included such uses as refuge and image source. 

Interpersonal Communication.  Communication was a primary strategy of understanding emerging from participants engagement with the Internet.   Among those who used e-mail, the Internet made sense as a communication devise, often as an alternative to the expense of long distance phoning and the preparation necessary for letter writing.  For some, it was meaningful for maintaining friendships:

To me the e-mail has been the best part.

We were able to communicate with each other, and caught up, and with the exception of catching each others tears, we were able to communicate without a phone bill after all those years.  

I dont have to search the house for a phone book, I can go straight to the computer for it.  I dont have to be running around looking for a typewriter.  I can do it right here; its all right here.  

Participants also made sense of the Internet in ways that achieved different, and sometimes new, approaches to their interpersonal communication practices.  For one participant, writing rather than speaking interpersonally served to stimulate the creative muse, and she good-naturedly warned:

Anyone I have given my e-mail to, be prepared because you will get a novel.  I can express myself better when I am writing or typing.  I really like e-mail.             

On the other hand, talking with strangers did not make sense to too many of our participants.  Some expressed a purposeful non-use of chat rooms.  As one woman said:

I dont like it...I dont talk to people I dont know.  I have people I can talk to, so no, I dont go to the chat room.  

In addition, the subject matter of many chat rooms was not meaningful to participants who had either heard about or visited them:

I would definitely shut it right off if I thought the wrong question or anything came about.  But see, why even put yourself in that situation if you think that might happen. 

Parenting support.  Participants readily made sense of the Internet as a parenting tool and, as such, its most significant meaning was access to resources so that homework could be completed at home rather than having to arrange library access.  Freed from these constraints, parents felt they were able to better level the educational playing field for their children.  As one parent said:

If it werent for this, that meant that I had to go in my car, go to the library, and if you get to go to the computer...because theres only so many there, you know.  That was one thing that was really helpful.  That worked a lot.  That really helped.  

Parents also attributed a basic sense of social literacy to the Internet:

This is the future of our kids, this is what the worlds going to; to survive our future is right here.  

Practical information.  Participants made sense of the Internet as a personalized source of practical information to meet specific, individualized needs. 

Its allowed us to access information wed normally wouldnt have, wed have to go out of our homes for, so that helps us; its served a very good purpose.

            Two additional patterns emerged within this category.  First, African-American users talked about the widest range of practical information-seeking via the Internet.  They found it a meaningful way to bring information into the home that might otherwise require a trip to the library, the bus station or a newsstand.  Second, low skill users were more likely to make sense of the Internet in terms of its potential rather than actual use in providing practical information for their lives.  As one woman said:

I can just sit here and you see how big it is, the inside; its like all this is knowledge and I want this knowledge and theres so much in there and I just want to learn it. 

Other sense-making uses of the Internet.  Participants made sense of the Internet as a place of personal retreat.  Some found this refuge meaningful as a way to fill time, relieve boredom, or transition from one activity to another:

When somebodys on the computer whatever it is theyre doing on that computer at that time, thats the world theyre in ... its another world.

I escape on the computer all the time ... I like feeling connected to the world and I can dream. 

The most inclusive pattern, however, was the sense made of this refuge for tension and stress relief.  Typical are the words of one woman who said:

If Im stressed out or depressed or the day is not going right, I just get on the computer and just start messing around and I come up with all sorts of things like okay, wow!

            In addition to the Internet as refuge, African-Americans often made sense of Internet access as an image enhancer.  Just having it was meaningful:

You get a lot of respect because you have a computer in your house.

 I just think it makes us look more progressive.             

            (2) Concerns about Internet.  Along with participants meaningful embrace of the Internets usefulness, there was also a sense of some very real dangers associated with it.  The dominant pattern here suggested the betrayal of a promise and a trust.  Participants were distressed by a sense of the Internet as pernicious, and their primary focus concerned their responsibilities as parents.   Parenting concerns included talk about the bad stuff out there, about pornographic and sexual predators, and about the unwanted temptation the Internet posed for their children. 

Predatory.  In addition to specific concerns about pornography and about what goes on in chat rooms, participants had a general sense of the Internet as a place out there that was full of bad stuff:

At first I thought it was like a danger zone, when they talk about the Internet.  I thought it was a way of looking for trouble.  Like steal your kid or some weirdo could come and kidnap you and kill you.

I just tell them there are some things in the computers that are bad, that you have to be careful with...you can find a lot of things on the computer, things you wouldnt think you could see, in the computer you can find it.

Participants were particularly outraged with their sense that predatory pornographers inhabited the Internet.  As one father reported:

The very first time we got this my daughter got on it and she went to White House dot com thinking she was going to the White House, but thats White House dot gov, but we didnt know this and it was a porno site.  And I thought this was really outrageous, that they put it so close, knowing that children go there so much...I was pretty ticked off about it.  I think that was intentional on the people who made the site.  Theyre dirty people....I thought it was pretty pathetic that they would do something like that...that was low.    

 Participants also understood the chat room as a predatory space, both for themselves and their children. 

This word right here scares me...chat...because I like to know who Im communicating with.  But at the same time they can never find out who I am, but still... Just watching the TV, things that have happened...bad things.  I dont see good things happen to them.  I just rather for me and my family not to chat. Especially my girls.  

I have talked to them about chat lines and stuff, and you shouldnt get on to nothing like that because you dont know who youre talking to.  Whether they sound friendly or not, you dont even know who youre talking to. 

Even chatrooms that might have seemed safe were found to betray:

This is kind of confusing because when you go to the Christian chat rooms theyre doing the same thing as the regular chat rooms. Language-wise and trying to find a mate-wise, its kind of the same.  And you hear a lot of different things on it.             

Participants also had a sense that the Internet created issues of parent-child trust.  While they recognized a need to set guidelines and monitor their children's Internet use, they also recognized the need to trust their children:

 Any time theyre on the computer, I worry that theyre seeing something theyre not supposed to, but shell tell me mama, dont worry." 

 You have to have some trust in your children, but then again you have to be a parent and realize that children are going to make mistakes, and theyre going to do things, and they are easily influenced.  

Parents sought various means of finding some sense that, as one parent said, I can control this. As one parent reported:

I know how to go into the computer and look up whats been looked up on the web site for the last three weeks...l know how to go to the history and pull up a page...I just, for my personal, I want to know what theyre looking at. I like to monitor.

Others attempted to harness the technology to assist them, but were uniformly dissatisfied with the results.  One user's words were common knowledge:

We can control pornography on here, but then it limits what we can do.    

If I block them, they cant do their homework.  I found that out.  They cant get into what they really need to get into.

Perilous.  Some users, but particularly low-skill users, sensed a danger of addiction and isolation about the Internet.  One person called it hypnotic. Others commented that:

The more you deal with the computer it seems like it clings to you and you want to get deeper into it, so actually I run from it because I could get stuck to it.

I heard of people having mental problems [when they] get on and dont know how to get off or cook dinner or go to work. 

            Participants also had a sense of the Internet as a risky place to reveal personal and private information, such as credit card, address and telephone information.  Some questioned the validity of information available on the Internet:

The scary thing about the computer is anybody can put anything on the computer, and there is something in the written word.  Hopefully my kids wont suffer from this, but theres something about putting things in writing that makes it believable to people.

            (3) Frustrations with the Internet.  While participants envisioned a place for the Internet in the practices of their everyday lives, its actual as well as potential usefulness was frequently accompanied by a sense of its deficiency. 

Faulty performance.  Unlike their experiences with other communication resources that are seamlessly integrated into daily life, there was a sense of obtrusiveness about using the Internet.  While television, radio and telephone respond instantaneously to your commands, the Internet makes you wait:

I used to call my kids to ask them whats wrong, and theyre like Mom, you still have the hour glass there. 

Some participants developed schemes for dealing with this performance deficiency:

It takes a while to move from site to site...and sometimes when I am waiting Ill get up and grab something to eat and drink...and Ill still be waiting. 

Sometimes it freezes up and I can be in the middle of looking for something or playing a game or something or reading and Ill be Oh, no, not now! But Ill just have to wait until it passes, so I wait and then try again and sometimes right again.

"Ive learned to adapt, Ill sit back...I give myself more extra time.  

Others simply vent their frustrations:

 How frustrated I get when I go on the Internet and I get mad and I shut it off and about fifteen minutes Ill come back and get on again and get mad and shut it off...pouncing and stomping up the stairs 

Inadequate guidance.  Participants recognized that there was a learning curve associated with using the Internet.  As participants said:

That gets frustrating because I dont know everything about the computer yet.

Like I said, my technology words arent clear.   

Nevertheless, they expected that the computer itself would be more helpful in guiding them through its process. They had a sense of it as a partner that should know and be responsive to their needs, and understand their intentions.  And they were disappointed:

Computers are supposed to be pretty smart, they say.  I feel like its supposed to be showing me things that make sense.  I dont know if its just not loading, or the computer dont figure out what I put down.

I dont know what the word is because I dont know the computer verbiage...I get frustrated...just give me the information!   

Duplicitous.  Many participants had a sense that the Internet delivered less than was claimed or implied.  Users found the commercialization of the Internet in conflict with its implied promise as a great information resource.  For some it was the disappointment of discovering that access to content might require payment; for others it was a more general annoyance with the intrusion of advertisements.  

I was bummed out when I saw it.  When it popped up I was excited but when I clicked on it and saw I had to pay $30.  I was let down.

I wish they didnt have these things here...I dont want to go...I know some people would like to, and look at a 2 percent credit card, but Im not so.

            (4) Obstacles to Internet use.  Participants, regardless of skill level, had a sense of the Internet as alien and enigmatic.  Its logic did not make sense and it worked with a foreign language.  Using the Internet generated apprehensive about what one might do to mess-up the technology.  For African-American users there was an additional sense of intimidation because the Internet raised the specter of being perceived as dumb.   For the most part, these obstacles were attributed to the limitations of the user rather than to the performance the Internet, and they were more characteristic of low skill than high skill users.

Alien logic.  The logic of the Internet was not intuitive.  Far from it:

It just seems so, I dont know, convoluted or something. 

 I know how to find what I need usually, but in this medium ... I dont really.  Its less familiar, it's not comfortable.

But I dont think I really understand the Internet.  I feel theres some sort of secret behind using it.

The language system of the Internet seemed foreign to users.  They had a sense that it consisted of jargon and codes that baffled the imagination and didnt seem to be defined anywhere.  Faced with this discontinuity, users said:

I feel like I somehow dont have the right words, or that its just too narrow

I always have to find out the way to abbreviate some of the ways you get in, like I needed to go back to school to get the correct stuff.  

But school was not uniformly the answer to decoding the Internet.  As one user lamented:

I never cried here...but in that class, it was like Chinese, and this was supposed to be an introduction...and I didnt know how to click... On an icon? An icon is something in church... Mary and Jesus is what I saw growing up.  

High maintenance learning.  Participants who lacked computer experience were adrift in their early attempts to use the Internet.  One woman's comments capture this sense:

"We couldnt wait.  I left my son and I had to pick him up in a few minutes, and I was like nothing is going to stop me from getting here when she brings this computer.  I was just so excited.  I mean then when we got it, and after, we were like what do we do?"

Other participants reiterated this sense of wanting to use the Internet, but not having the hands-on kind of instruction they needed to bridge that gap:

You know regular people like me, who want a computer, what would they do without support?

I mean Im trying to learn, but I dont know how.  

At the same time participants also recognized that learning how to use the Internet was time consuming.  It required practice, and that meant finding and devoting time to using it.  One persons story is typical: 

"A lot of times Im real busy, and it was hard for me to get a turn on the computer too.  My best chance of getting time on the computer is I get up at 6 am and the rest of the family gets up at seven.  So if I finish my bath and get ready quickly I can get on before anyone else is up.  And I can have an hour space to do whatever I want while theyre sleeping and getting up and dressed themselves."

For others there just did not seem to be time anywhere in the ongoing requirements of their day.  As one woman characterized this sense of the discontinuity between her situation and using the Internet:

I feel like I dont have time ...who has time to watch or play with these machines.  Theres so much more in life to do.  

Discussion

            Early results of the HomeNetToo project indicate that during the first six months of home Internet access low-income adults spent about 42 minutes/day online, in 1 session, and visiting 10 domains.  Although half the participants did not use e-mail at all, others were thoroughly engaged in this activity.  However, the main Internet activity was finding personally relevant information on the Web.  Mailing list, newsgroup and chat activities were virtually nonexistent.  Self-report measures of Internet use were reliably related to server-logged measures.

            Prior experience using the Internet was related to home Internet use (1-3).  However, much stronger relationships were observed between use and demographic characteristics.  African Americans used the Internet less than did European Americans, especially after the novelty of home Internet access dissipated (6).  Participants under the age of 38 used the Internet more than did older participants, and this difference also increased with time (1-10).  Participants with only a high school education or less used the Internet less than did more educated participants (cf., 8).  This relationship also grew stronger with time. 

            We found no relationships between gender and Internet use, consistent with recent findings (6).  Nor was income related to use, contrary to previous findings (e.g., 1, 6). The homogeneity of our sample with respect to income may account for these null findings.  Almost half the participants in the HomeNetToo project earned less than $15,000/year.

            Ethnographic accounts of participants' experiences with the Internet provided rich accounts that complement quantitative findings.  Participants incorporated the Internet into their ongoing lives as a communication device that had advantages over existing technologies.  As one participant expressed it, "with the exception of catching each others tears, we were able to communicate without a phone bill after all those years.  Chat rooms, on the other hand, were seldom incorporated.  Many participants were wary of chat rooms before the project began, and avoided them altogether.  Others had direct experiences that confirmed prior negative expectations.  But the most fundamental reason for low chat activity was that participants felt little need for it:  I dont talk to people I dont know.  I have people I can talk to, so no, I dont go to the chat room.  

            All participants made sense of the Internet as an information resource.  It supported parenting:  This is the future of our kids, this is what the worlds going to; to survive our future is right here.  It provided convenient access to information: Its allowed us to access information wed normally wouldnt have, wed have to go out of our homes for, so that helps us; its served a very good purpose.  It permitted a welcome escape:  I escape on the computer all the time...I like feeling connected to the world and I can dream.  It conferred status:  You get a lot of respect because you have a computer in your house.

            But the story of Internet use in the home is not all good news.  For many participants the Internet had a dark side.  There was a sense that the Internet was predatory and perilous - that there was "bad stuff out there."  The main concern was for the welfare of children:  At first I thought it was like a danger zone, when they talk about the Internet.Like steal your kid or some weirdo could come and kidnap you and kill you.  I didnt know it [pornography] was that easy to access.  Concerns about potential dangers for children raised issues of parent-child trust:  You have to have some trust in your children, but then again you have to be a parent and realize that children are going to make mistakes, and theyre going to do things, and they are easily influenced. 

            Participants developed a variety of strategies for coping with their concerns about the Internet.  Some routinely monitored the children's Internet use.  Others attempted, unsuccessfully, to enlist the technology itself (i.e., filtering software).  But a sense of the Internet as a dangerous place lingered for some.  Still others were concerned about its addictive properties:  The more you deal with the computer it seems like it clings to you and you want to get deeper into it, so actually I run from it because I could get stuck to it.

            The plodding pace and unreliable delivery of the Internet frustrated participants, as did its failure to provide the kind of assistance that users expected of it:  "Computers are supposed to be pretty smart, they say.  I feel like its supposed to be showing me things that make sense."  The commercialism of the Internet violated expectations about its value as an information resource: I wish they didnt have these things here...I dont want to go...I know some people would like to, and look at a 2 percent credit card, but Im not so.

            Another frustration that participants struggled to articulate was the alien logic of the Internet:  it just seems so, I dont know, convoluted or something.  "Its less familiar, its not comfortable.  I feel theres some sort of secret behind using it.  While participants appreciated the need for training, training itself heightened anxiety for some, who found themselves still unable to unlock the secrets of computer logic: I never cried here...but in that class, it was like Chinese, and this was supposed to be an introduction."  And with the recognition the time would need to be invested to learn how to use the Internet, some concluded:  "I feel like I dont have time ...who has time to watch or play with these machines.  Theres so much more in life to do.  

            These early findings of the HomeNetToo project have implications for technology development if universal use, and not just universal access to the Internet is a desired goal.  First, new tools are needed to guide the user through the "logic" of the Internet, tools that go beyond more efficient search routines to understand the "mind" of the user - his questions, intentions, and goals. In other words, these new tools should think like the user.   Second, new tools are needed so that parents can better control the content of the Internet that comes into their homes.  Participants' accounts of their experiences with currently available filtering methods make clear that none is up to the task.  Existing products block desirable and undesirable content alike, and render the Internet more frustrating to use - slower, less reliable, more confusing, than it already is for new users, and for some old ones as well. 

            At a more general level, the HomeNetToo findings highlight the need for more user-oriented design, not just in Internet applications but in information technology (IT) in general.  Both hardware and software design have thus far been driven by a limited set of users, namely well-educated professionals in IT or related fields.  As the Internet and IT extend their reach to the sub-Sahara, remote rural villages in China, and to every point on the globe the need to adapt design to user characteristics become all the more urgent.  Now is a propitious time to begin an assessment of what user characteristics are important, and how IT can best be designed to accommodate them.


References

1-Kraut, R., Scherlis, W., Mukhopadhyay, T., Manning, J., & Kiesler, S.  (1996).  The HomeNet field trial of residential Internet services.  Communications of the ACM, 39, 55-66.

2-Kraut, R., Kiesler, S., Boneva, B., Cummings, J., Helgeson, V., & Crawford, A.  (in press).  Internet paradox revisited.  Journal of Social Issues.  Online version, October 12, 2001.

http://homenet.hcii.cs.cmu.edu/progress/paradox-revisited-16%20-2.pdf

3-Nie, N. H., & Erbring, L.  (2000).  Internet and Society: A preliminary report.  Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society. Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

www.stanford.edu/group/siqss/Press_Release/Preliminary_Report.pdf

4- The UCLA Internet Report.  (2000).  Surveying the digital future.  UCLA Center for Communication Policy.  University of California, Los Angeles, CA.

www.ccp.ucla.edu

5- Analysis: The Web's true digital divide.  By Steven Sailer, UPI National Correspondent, Los Angeles, CA, July 17, 2001.

www.vny.com/cf/news/upidetail.cfm?QID=203267

6- African-Americans and the Internet.  Pew Internet & American Life Project, October 22, 2000, 1100 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 710, Washington, DC, 20036.

7- Tracking online life: How women use the Internet to cultivate relationships with family and friends.  Pew Internet & American Life Project, May 10, 2000, 1100 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 710, Washington, DC, 20036.

8- Nielsen/NetRatings, Wall Street Journal (Interactive), Melinda Patterson, September 22, 2000, interactive.wsj.com/articles/SB969578398278162051.htm)

9- The Dollar Divide: Demographic segmentation and Web usage patterns by household income.  Media Metrix August 2000 Key Findings Summary.

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10-Study: Most Net users seek info over fun, By Lori Enos, NewsFactor Network, November 2, 2000.  PricewaterhouseCoopers' Entertainment and Media Practice.

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Footnotes

1 This research was supported by a National Science Foundation/Information Technology Research Grant,  #0085348, titled "HomeNetToo: Motivational, affective and cognitive factors and Internet use: Explaining the digital divide and the Internet paradox."  September 1, 2000 to September 30, 2003.  Linda A. Jackson, Principal Investigator.

2 The HomeNetToo project is in progress.  Data collection (server logging and surveys) will be completed in May 2002.  User interfaces are being designed and tested to evaluate the benefits of adapting interface design to the user cognitive style.  Approximately 140 children of the adults discussed in this report are also participating in the project.  Among other measures, school and standardized test performance of these children will be related to their home Internet use.

3 Additional measures of Internet use not considered in this report were also server-logged.

4 Because distributions of server-logged Internet use were highly skewed, log transformations of the data were used in the analyses.

5 The other clusters were "friendliness of the Internet (familiarity, design preferences), integration of the Internet (location in the home, effect on family), and engagement with the Internet (processes of interaction, creative activity).