The Sesame Street Effect: Work, Study, Play and the Family Internet
ANZCA & Queensland University of Technology
Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
School of Communications and Multimedia
Australian Research Council
ARC Number : DP0211751
This paper investigates the interplay between the multifunctional nature of the Internet and socio-cultural practices within Australian homes. It analyses the domestic use of the Internet in Australian family life through the interrogation of three case studies, all professional families with school-aged children. It draws on the notion that the home is a discrete social environment with its own socio-cultural practices, values and beliefs, gendered relationships and resources and that the domestic Internet is a locale where these socio-cultural practices are articulated and enacted. Research and discussion regarding ‘the digital divide’ often highlights the importance of having Internet access to enhance children's educational performance. However, home computing, along with Internet access, may generate another ‘Sesame Street effect’ whereby an innovation that held great promise for poorer children to catch up educationally with more affluent children is in practice increasing the educational gap between affluent and poor (Attewell & Battle,1999, p.1) As with Sesame Street in the 70s, many parents are embracing Internet access as a means to enhance their children’s computer literacy and educational opportunities. Nonetheless, little research or discussion has specifically addressed the way in which home Internet access is a site where the digital divide may be amplified in terms of children’s opportunities. Additionally, the research reported here also suggests that the shared family Internet helps model and negotiate attitudes to work and career, further articulating the impact family functioning may have on career development (Kerka, 2000, p.1). The home Internet allows for wider and more diverse forms of usage. These options range from mass media elements of the World Wide Web, to a variety of communication forms that rely on the production of content by Internet users, such as email, chat and role play gaming. Internet users are both consumers and producers of Internet texts and engage with the Internet for work and home/leisure purposes. Users can actively interact with, or at other times (ostensibly) passively consume, Internet texts. In this sense the Internet is a more complex, multidimensional and interactive medium than television broadcasting (Holloway & Green, 2002, p.7). Therefore, one way in which families make sense of the Internet, as a shared resource with its variety of usages, is to prioritise work and study tasks over and above leisure or entertainment pursuits. In this way they construct themselves in relation to the Internet, and ‘their’ Internet as a reflection of themselves.