February 6, 2005

Stories of online life

On the bottom left of our home page http://www.pewinternet.org we invite visitors to our site to take an online version of our core survey about internet use. More than 3,500 people have done so. At the end of the survey, we ask respondents to tell us the most important or compelling thing that has happened to them online.

Many talk about finding romance, or reconnecting with long lost friends or family members, or how they found health information that has changed their lives, or how they have probed their ancestry to unexpected depths.

From time to time, I will share some of their stories in my commentary postings. Here are some that caught my eye from those who completed the survey in January:

Story 1: Googling myself

“When I googled myself recently I found that an old friend of mine was writing a column for a newspaper in a city where I no longer live, and had dedicated a column to me. I was able to email him directly from the website and we got back in touch after many years of not really knowing where each other were.”

Story 2: Nana and the webcam

“The most amazing thing happened about a week ago. My daughter lives in another state and we have webcams and chat online often (several times a week sometimes two or more times a day). The amazing thing is my granddaughter – she is not quite two years old but she is very much into chatting with Nana on the computer. We sing, play games (peek a boo), laugh and talk. A couple of weeks ago as we played she asked me to pick her up. I was surprised … she lifted her little arms toward the screen and said “up Nana … up”. My daughter tells me that if she says “let’s call Nana” my granddaughter automatically heads for their computer room.”

Story 3: A precious digital record

“The week after my 16 year old daughter died in a car accident, I was passing her bedroom door and heard her computer do that “blee-de-bleep” sound that IM makes when you get an incoming message. I went [to her computer and] … found she had downloaded the logfiles of IM conversations she had had with friends onto our computer. I found out she had been keeping an diary file which indicated that she had been having sex but also that her emotional life was rich, stable, and caring.

“In this file, she talked about how good her relationship was with me, her mom, and other parents. What a gift to find this–or have her show me it was there. It confirmed her love for us and eased my pain. About a month later I googled her name (which is fairly unusual) and found all sorts of blogs, postings, webpages, comments, and junk online that she had posted for years. People had posted comments about the accident and had posted poetry to her. Too young to publish an autobiography, bits of her live on, online.”