The HomeNet Project 

 
Overview

Publications and Press Releases

Researchers

Affiliates

As with the telephone, radio, and television, the dramatic growth of the Internet has the potential to change how people live.  By 2003 over 65% of  U.S. households owned a personal computer, with most having access to the Internet.  The numbers continue to rise. 

HomeNet is a research project at Carnegie Mellon University whose purpose is to understand people's use of the Internet at home. Starting in 1995, we provided families with Internet service and carefully documented how members of the family use online services such as electronic mail, computerized bulletin boards, online chat groups, and the World Wide Web.  Through detailed audit of trial data on Internet use, quantitative surveys and interviews with family members, we have been able to measure how people are integrating  electronic communication and information services into their lives and the impact these services are having.

Research Highlights

There have been three HomeNet studies thus far: a 1995-96 study involving 93 families in Pittsburgh involved in school or community organizations, a 1997-99 study involving 25 families with home businesses, and a 1998-99 study involving 151 Pittsburgh households, and a 2000-2002 nationally representative survey.

Our findings show the variety of ways people are domesticating the Internet--turning a technology invented for scientists and elaborated for electronic commerce--into a household feature.  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.

Despite the newness and excitement surrounding the World Wide Web, the killer application on the Internet is still interpersonal communication.  Electronic mail use is more popular than use of the Web, more stable, and drives greater and more lasting use of the Internet overall. One reason is that email sustains ongoing dialogues and relationships. In contrast, the Web has more bounded uses, in which information gathering, for example, for school assignments, purchase decisions, or paid employment is satisfied with one or a few visits. In the abstract sense, this is an argument that the Internet is a social and emotional technology, and that it sustains social networks.

Even though interpersonal communication is the most important application of the Internet for most people, our research has shown that extensive use of the Internet may have negative social consequences.

  • Greater use of the Internet is associated with declines in the size of participants' social networks, declines in communication within the family and, for teenagers, declines in social support.
  • Greater use of the Internet is associated with increases in loneliness and symptoms of depression. 
  • These declines are especially strong during the first years online, but may drop or even reverse with time or as the services available on the Internet improve. 

However, the effects of the Internet depend on the specific ways it is used. Across multiple surveys, the following uses of the Internet consistently emerge:

  • Communicaiton with friends and family
  • Communication with relative strangers, to meet new people
  • Entertainment
  • Gathering practical information about work, school and current events
  • Commercial transactions

Use of the Internet for meeting new people is associated with increases in sysmptom of depression. These increases in depressive affect are greater for those with more social resources, e.g., who communicate with more people in their daily lifes or belong to more community organizations. In contrast, using the Internet for entertainment is associated with declines in depressive affect.

Current studies

We are currently conducting data through longitudinal surveys to examine how people are using the Internet to deal with the stresses of moving. College students who communicate with high school friends through instant message and electronic mail retain these ties more than do those who rely upon telephone and face-to-face communication. We are currently conducting research to see how people use the Internet to integrate themselves in a new community.

The HomeNet project has been supported by National Science Foundation grants ISS-9625862, ISS-9900449, and ISS-0208900

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