A person’s surface identity may now be inextricably bound up with Twitter feeds and other heavily tailored, virtual life-mélanges (Facebook Timeline, LinkedIn, etc.), but everybody still uses email, and in a few words email says a lot.
My parents, entirely respectable people, still pay for AOL service. While I want to trust the decisions of those who raised me, AOL domain email addresses make me anxious. Unresolved parental childhood trauma aside, email addresses with “@aol.com” suggestively tacked on the end make my neck hair tingle.
My parents may gain a certain sense of security knowing they are paying to keep all their stored documents “secure” in AOL’s archives, but the very thing that makes them feel so safe—AOL’s unwillingness to go away—is what caused me to abandon the clingy service a long time ago. AOL keeps trying to step up its game, leading its followers on while acquiring platforms no one’s heard of and hawking sensationalist news stories, reluctant to acknowledge it’s well past time to cede the stage.
And what’s the cost of AOL’s clunky service model with its useless add-ons? It can cost a member as much as $55 a month, or $660 a year.
I remember growing up with AOL, as if it were a dysfunctional sibling. I remember the countless activation CDs that got environmental groups seething. I remember dial-up so slow it made me want to rip off my skin, the “you’ve got mail” voice that still haunts my nightmares. AOL was the first provider I used, I thought it was the internet. I even remember my elderly grandmother struggling to remember her username/password combo as AOL’s dialup sounds ground viscerally to life, like concrete in a blender.
Every time my parents find an excuse to resist transferring away from AOL, conceding to accusations of archaicness (“We have gmail accounts,” they say, “we just haven’t…used them yet”), I warn them all the money in the world won’t make AOL any less tenuous-seeming, outdated, backward. Maybe it’s simply generational to not trust “free” things, especially when you don’t fully understand how they work.
And I wonder: how many people does AOL continue to dupe, urging them to pay for its mediocre service, while their files are no more secure than anywhere else? As of 2011, 3.5 million. I got locked out of my AOL account years ago, but I know my inbox still sadly sits somewhere in cyberspace, where it’s slowly been accumulating spam for the past 13 years, like the sibling who, in the wake of abandonment, became a compulsive collector as a substitute for familial closeness.
So maybe I have personal experience to blame, but when I see an AOL address, I think: Stuck in the past. Afraid of change. Someone who probably shouldn’t be trusted. I think of my parents saying: “Let me just locate that in my AOL history…” as countless minutes tick by.
Because of my—admittedly—extreme bias, AOL is of the greatest offense to me, but there are an abundance of other domains which are equally worrisome (Angelfire, Hotmail, Yahoo increasingly), which proudly proclaim: “I know nothing, I have never known anything, nor do I care to at any future time know about [internet] progress.” Even Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer, recently forgot Yahoo existed while still employed at Google.
I say: move over antiquated online services, cyberspace is no longer big enough for the both of us.
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