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Careers at home base

Off the desk and online:
Homemaking with computer

Off the desk and online: Homemaking with computer
iconJulie Kirtz Garrett is one of many career women who has opted to spend some time as a full-time mom raising kids. The question of doing this is something that many American women face. Click here for some data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

In this story:

Stay-at-home surfing

Speed and privacy at home

My family's Internet future


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the first time in 15 years I have no commute.

I'm taking a break from working full time as a television correspondent to take care of my three young children full time. And I've discovered a new friend right here in my house: our family computer.

How much importance do you think the Internet and computer have in the viability of a home-based career?

Lots. I think it's more palatable to make raising kids a career move, as Garrett has, because you can stay online with the world.
Some. But in a way, I wonder if homemakers aren't relegated by their obligations to be more spectator-users of the Web than participants.
None. The computer and Internet are no more central to the business of raising kids at home than, say, the TV and radio. The Web is just newer so access to it can be touted as the latest "labor-saving device."
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I used to put our 5-year-old black laptop in the same category as the food processor my mother gave me one year for Christmas. Both gadgets promised to make my life easier, but both sat in the corner ignored by me for years. Even if they could have saved me time, juggling career and parenthood left me no time to find out. While the food processor still sits idle in my kitchen cabinet (sorry, Mom), the computer and I are getting to know each other.


Stay-at-home surfing

In the past 10 months, I've used the computer to e-mail family, research a home renovation project, consult with my financial advisor, shop, look up addresses and phone numbers -- and I've used it as a small source of free-lance income.

I also keep up my professional contacts online and stay in touch with my friends who are taking breaks from their own full-time careers.

This isn't revolutionary, I know. But for me it's a big shift.

When my husband and I were both at the office all day, we could hardly get the kids fed and bathed after work before we collapsed. The last thing I wanted to do was sit down and face a computer screen. I needed a break from the wired world, and didn't want any more information on anything.

Now surfing the Web is how I stay linked to the outside world. I've found that many of my fellow stay-at-home moms are Internet converts, too.

"I hardly go to stores anymore," says Amy Kuhn, a former Washington attorney who now lives in Portland, Maine, with her husband and three children. "I don't grocery shop, but I use the Internet to do almost all of my errands. I buy clothes, household items and toys. Who has time to schlep to the mall anymore?"

Kuhn says she logs on all the time and believes it saves her time. Research shows that while woman may not be going into tech careers as avidly as men, many of them do view the computer as a timesaver.

"One of the major virtues of e-mail to women is its efficiency," according to a report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project -- an arm of the Pew Research Center funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The Pew's March 2000 survey of 3,533 Americans found that women, more often than men, cited the time-saving aspect of sending e-mail.

"Fully 65 percent of women who e-mail family members," reads the report's text, "say that they can keep in touch with their family without having to spend as much time talking to them. Some 59 percent of men say that is true for them."


Speed and privacy at home

I still have a standard 56KB dial-up modem. But Kuhn has a faster cable connection and that makes the Web really efficient for her.

Cable and DSL (digital subscriber line) connections aren't available in all neighborhoods. Pew's research shows 1.8 percent of homes with DSL and 4.2 percent with cable modems. Still, the faster connections are making home surfing more popular according to Joseph G. Turow, professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. With cable and DSL you don't have to dial up. And they support an analog phone line, so you can use your phone while online.

Of course, stay-at-home moms aren't the only ones online at the house. Wired office workers are shifting to more home Internet use because of faster home connections and because employers are cracking down on Internet use, according to Turow.

The family PC is starting to feel like an indispensable part of the household. I am seriously considering a faster connection. There are still many things online I haven't tried: I have no desire to grocery shop, join a chat room, meet a new friend, auction off a belonging or trade stocks. Maybe all that will come later.

An American Management Association report in April said that almost 75 percent of major firms in the United States monitor employee e-mail, Web surfing or computer files. Officials at one in five companies said they'd fired employees for misuse of company telecommunications resources.

A recent survey found 26 percent of respondents saying they agreed with management that it's sometimes appropriate for companies to monitor e-mail.

And if careerists heed warnings of at-work surveillance, it's likely they'll spend more of their off-hours on the Net via home systems. "The Internet is now a domesticated instrument," says Harrison "Lee" Rainie, the Pew project's director and a former managing editor with U.S. News & World Report.


My family's Internet future

When I worked full-time, I mostly used the Internet at the office to research my news stories and contact news sources. But I have to confess I occasionally e-mailed my husband and I did do a little e-shopping one Christmas.

Now I do what I want on the Web, when I want to do it.

graphic Figures on working women with children are among data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here's a quick look at some of the most recent numbers.

Mona Cannon, a homemaker in Austin, Texas, puts it this way: "I hook into sites and articles, The New York Times, CNN. I use the Internet to pretend I am grownup, mostly."

I probably spend less than an hour online from home each day. It depends on how hectic the week is with the kids. And if someone's sick, forget it.

But the family PC is starting to feel like an indispensable part of the household. I am seriously considering a faster connection. There are still many things online I haven't tried: I have no desire to grocery shop, join a chat room, meet a new friend, auction off a belonging or trade stocks. Maybe all that will come later.

My children will soon lead me to new and varied reasons to go online. They're still young enough to be content in the world of books, and I like it that way. But now that I've made friends with our home computer, I'm developing a taste for the Web, and I'll be ready when they're ready to log on.

My neglected food processor is the next domestic frontier. Dinnertime may never be the same.


What goes around: Talking shop online
February 5, 2001
Working on the pay gap: He clicked, she clicked
January 17, 2001
Crowning careers: IT workers still rule
December 26, 2000
Workplace gender gap: Women and men -- payday
December 12, 2000

American Management Association
Pew Internet & American Life Project
University of Pennsylvania: Annenberg School for Communication

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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