Recovering from AOL
After 30 years of addiction, I’m ready to quit AOL.
The AOL monkey on my Mac was destroying me.
Friends mocked me. Hahaha, they exclaimed, “You’ve got mullet!” Worst, “Steve Case emailed from his BlackBerry — can he be a billionaire spaceman too?”
Trump-loving family also preferred communicating via Facebook about the stupid horrible America-hating libs like me, but it’s not personal.
Clients wondered whether I’m too old to help them “engage” today’s especially gifted OCD youth that eye-rolls at emails, even those crafted with Hemingway’s sparse and muscular elegance like mine.
With their preternatural wisdom, the youngers know it’s faster and easier to miscommunicate using text hieroglyphics and acronyms that are “cheugy” when like everyone knows what they mean.
Whatevs. AOL be like “LOL.”
The kids nowadays know everything, like duh.
But they may not know AOL was once like so amazing it bought the multimedia conglomerate, Time-Warner, for $182 billion.
Don’t blame the kids since like nothing happened before history began with their glorious birth.
It was like January 2000, when the dot.com crash was a crazy rumor until it wasn’t, like al-Qaeda and later the “Friends” reunion.
AOL leveraged its 30 million dial-up subscribers—yes, dial-up using AT&T/Electric Light Orchestra telephone lines— to swallow Warner Brothers, HBO, CNN, TBS, Time Warner Cable and Time magazine, like if Jonah ate the whale at a sashimi bar.
“The union combined the world’s largest media conglomerate with the world’s largest internet provider,” The Hollywood Reporter reminisced on the 20th anniversary last year. The deal created “a $350 billion monolith prominent in virtually every corner of the new and old media universe.”
Later the AOL-Time Warner deal failed as “the worst merger in history.”
From there it was pretty much like SOL for AOL.
A few years ago, Verizon bought AOL and Yahoo for $10 billion. Verizon’s strategic objective was to make even more billions than from magically transforming $99/month cable introductory offers into $300/month cable bills.
Verizon recently sold AOL and Yahoo to a big hedge fund for half what it paid. The hedge fund, investors hope, will strip AOL and Yahoo for parts, like when you check “yes” to organ donation when you renew your driver’s license just to speed your DMV journey.
I feel terribly awful, AOL.
I hate to abandon our co-dependent relationship when times are tough.
But to be completely honest, I met someone else. Someone who’s not in decline and dragging me down. Someone who gives me what I need, not letting my email get hacked and send ransomware to the 20,000 people I’ve emailed over the last 30 years. Someone who doesn’t earn me pity for sending firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s right: I met Gmail.
Gmail is not in a perpetual doom loop. Nobody laughs at Gmail if they know what’s good for them. Everyone loves Gmail. Everyone says get with Gmail.
Gmail has a big, stable, rich, supportive family, the Googles. Their family motto is nolite malum, which Google Translate says is Latin meaning “don’t be evil.” So of course the Googles didn’t own slaves.
The other big conspiracy theory also can’t be true, that Google is spying on us through our phones, the internet and their camera cars taking Street View photos. It’s the liberal government that’s tracking us by putting chips in Covid vaccinations!
Yet I’ll miss you, AOL.
And I’ll never forget my first taste of America Online.
It was back in the ’80s, when all the cool people were enjoying their coke.
But the blow, the snow, the sneeze, the toot, aka, the Winter’s Tale — they were not for me.
I only wanted my AOL like it was my MTV.
I remember the thrill when I received my AOL five-inch floppy disk from my U.S. Postal carrier and thrust it into my Gateway computer.
I’ll never forget the sweet music as the AOL disk connected me to the World Wide Web with its unforgettable “whawwhoeekishkishkishdingdingding,” music that was more hauntingly compelling than any bewildering John Cage avant-garde symphony.
It was even better than a coke rush when I heard AOL’s disembodied words, more exciting than the voices of today’s Siri, Alexa or Apple GPS, declaring, “You’ve Got Mail.”
Someone actually wanted to “talk” to me on AOL email! At an impersonal distance! Which I far preferred over doing coke with a beautiful stranger in the restroom at an exclusive club after dancing to Duran Duran and waking up together the next morning in shame before we headed off to our $10 million/year Wall Street jobs plus $2 million bonus if we really screwed the financial market and investors.
Things were different in the dawn of AOL.
We didn’t stop off for Starbucks. We didn’t put she/her/hers or he/him/his in our email signatures. Men were men and years later disgraced for being disgraceful as they deserved.
But I loved AOL. So much that I saw AOL’s astonishing 1998 branding coup, the smash hit film “You’ve Got Mail,” ~25 times. Not just for the Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks meet-cute story, but for the Internet Age of Innocence, when a big corporate CEO could leverage anonymous email flirting to literally screw the competitor.
This was back when getting email was good, not choking your inbox so much you put in for medical leave to recover from the stress.
It was back when the World Wide Web was a wonderful thing spreading information, communication and freedom to all peoples, not a psychotic, sociopathic fever-dream snake pit hall of mirrors that spreads hate, division, death and destruction.
I’ll miss you, AOL.
We were good together for a long time.
It wasn’t our fault we grew apart. It wasn’t we who changed. It was the times that changed, and changed us.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.