I received some kickback over a disparaging comment I made about Hotmail a few weeks ago. Hotmail is technically an email provider that was all the rage for about four days in 1997. It is the communication service favored today by young Russian singles looking to marry a kindly Amerikan gentlemen, as well as, it turns out, one of my publishers.
I believe my exact words were—and I’m paraphrasing—that Hotmail is a quaint anachronism that deserves special consideration when it is finally tossed into a dumpster fire and destroyed forever.
Here, then, is my formal heartfelt press-release apology to all you fine young Slavic bachelorettes and Mr. Aragon: I was wrong. I should have singled out AOL.
AOL, formerly America Online, offered families the first popular internet-email-news-messenger-screeching modem bundle. Before AOL, technology was mysterious and inaccessible, like an Aztec god or the missing remote control.
AOL revolutionized that distant approach. To gain customers, it sent every member of your household a start-up CD about thirteen times a week. This taught my sisters and I that technology was cheap and disposable, and that CDs make really great air-hockey pucks when you fling them over linoleum surfaces. I’m not saying we personally played a part in the demise of tangible music albums; I’m just saying that you cannot get good velocity from an MP3 file.
If I had reason to think about AOL, I would presume that modernity had left it munching dust in the taillights. After all, we today have quieter and more portable technologies, like smartphones and the Etch-A-Sketch.
How very wrong I would be! AOL has the most successful business model of the human era so far. More than 2 million Americans—or the approximate total of registered voters—still pay more than $20 a month in actual money for AOL’s dial-up internet service, even though no one uses it.
The strategy is brilliant. AOL gets money for nothing. And the consumer probably sees upsides, too! For instance, when you finally call to cancel your AOL subscription, you will not have to wait on hold to speak to AOL’s last remaining call center representative.
This perk cannot be underestimated. Waiting on hold is THE WORST. It’s like standing in line at the bank, only I don’t get a free pen for my troubles.
Also, being on hold completely restricts my freedom. Here I am, at home, comfortably wearing my pajamas, if anything, and yet I feel immobilized. The recorded lady always assures me that a representative will be with me “shortly.” “Shortly” covers all manner of sins, yet I can’t shake the feeling that, just this once, “shortly” might actually mean “soon.”
“Shortly” means I can’t take a bite out of this block of cheese, because as soon as I fill my mouth, a representative will answer and I won’t be able to communicate how he may help me! “Shortly” means I can’t take a power sander to my skull in order to dull the sensation of repetitive, tinny classical music, because then I won’t notice when I get accidentally disconnected with no way of regaining my spot in line! “Shortly” means too bad about that fourth cup of coffee, I have to hold it!
I called my health insurance provider three times in the past month about enrolling before the deadline. I sat on hold for over NINETY MINUTES each time. When I wound up on hold a fourth time, I said screw this; I ain’t holding it no more. I carried the phone into my, ahem, “private office.” What were the odds of an actual human answering the phone in the next twenty minutes, anyway?
The conversation went like this:
Insurance Representative: “Hi, my name is Dennis. May I get your name?”
Me: “Please hold for a moment.”
Dennis [flustered]: “I’m sorry?”
Me: “It’ll be quick.”
Dennis: “Sir, I need to verify your account to pull up your file.”
Me: “And I need to verify that I’m clear to pull up my pants.”
In the end, Dennis and I got along great; he instructed me to try enrolling online again, and to call back if I did not succeed. Dennis is smarter than he sounds—he knows I will never call back!
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