Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I ended one of the longest relationships of my life on Monday. It had been a strain on me for the past few years, but I just couldn't see the writing on the wall. I felt like there was too much history between us, and if we could just stick it out, we would eventually be very happy again. But Monday, I was brave and I ended it. It's sad and it's going to take me some time to grieve, but in the end, I always knew we had outgrown each other.

Of course, I'm talking about my AOL account.

Back in the fall of 1994, when Meatloaf tried to return to the pop scene and dirty hair and flannel were in, I was a high school sophomore and the internet, while no longer in its infancy, was still relatively new. My dad had Prodigy, an internet service provider that turned out to be the gateway to my dependence on the computer. We had prodigy for a couple of years, and I'd never actually been on the World Wide Web, only Prodigy messageboards and games. (I'm somewhat ashamed to tell you that the first web site I actually saw was for Trojan condoms, and my best friend Janie showed me.)

But when AOL started to become popular, Dad decided that we needed to jump aboard. So we did, in that historic autumn. I chose my user name, a childhood nickname, and it was available. (I'd also like to tell you that it had no numbers in it. How many people can say that?!) For something like $25 a month, we could boot up America Online our our IBM with Windows 3 at a speed of 56k. We were on fire.

It was through my AOL account that I discovered lots of things, like Instant Messaging and chat rooms. This was before sexting and camera phones, and the most risque thing I ever encountered on either was someone asking me my a/s/l. (That's "age, sex, location" for those of you that don't remember.) It was all very innocent, or maybe it was innocent because I didn't know any better. I remember talking to my friends every Wednesday afternoon (when I was at my dad's house) on IM, and checking my email. This was back when email was a novelty, internet shopping was practically unheard of, and anything in your in-box was actually from someone you knew.

It was through my AOL account that the majority of my first relationship transpired. The rise and fall of one month of my senior year, all on IM and email. And, I was such a geek, that I printed out each one.

It was through my AOL account that my friend Mark, now a computer whiz and graphic artist, taught me about .wav files and how to use them. Though, my dad was not amused when the theme song to The Facts of Life came on every time he booted up his computer.

You were good to me, AOL, but it's time to move on.

When I went to college, I discovered I could log on and use the account at school, provided no one at home was using the account. It was 1997, and that was about as cool of a discovery as I could make. When I graduated and got married in 2001, I pirated brought my username with me, at the expense of my dad still. It wasn't until 2003 that I actually moved my email and started paying for it myself.

When I look back on my technological life, AOL was a big part of it. We got wifi and new computers in 2008, and that's when I moved to web-based...and free. But I kept it, and used it, as my main address. I got laughed out of hotels and Targets for providing my email address, to the point where when I would give it, I would make the clerk promise not to laugh. One hotel front desk person said to me quietly and full of shame, "You don't still pay for it, do you?"

It's the history I was clinging to. Every day was a little reminder of who I was and how I got there. My buddy list has 156 people on it. I can tell you who maybe 4 are. My address book has 1012 email addresses. In the end, I was averaging about 200 pieces of mail a day, 90% spam, 9% from retailers I had shopped with (1-800-Flowers dutifully emailed me every day at 11 p.m. So glad I bought my mom some roses from there in 2005.) and 1% were from people I actually wanted to talk to.

I got my iPhone 5 last week, only to realize that AOL isn't the best thing working on it. Monday, my emails were so late, a friend and I got lost in the circle of "did you get that?/Why didn't you write me back?/Oh, when did you REALLY send it?" and I knew it was time to rip off the band-aid.

I had always said that I held on to my AOL address so someday, I could be in the Guinness Book of World Records for longest continually used email account. (No such record, or category  exists currently.) But besides that, I held on to it for the biggest fear of all...missing out on something. I figured with as much history as I've had on AOL, someone or something from my past would pop up someday, and I would just kick myself if I missed it. (But Partylight Lady who did a show for me in 2001, I won't miss you.)

I will always look back fondly on my first love, my first email address. Though I've had many over the years, it is that one that I will always consider my true love. But, it's time to let go. I am exclusively a Gmail girl now, but I admit I will still tear up when I watch Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in "You've Got Mail."

I'll miss you, AOL, but we are much better apart than we were together.

1 comment:

  1. Wow; that's incredible!! I am not only really impressed that you hung on as long as you did, but also that you already had email sophomore year. I think we got AOL when I was a senior, and I thought I was so cool when I wrote my email address in people's yearbooks. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! You are now officially cooler than my friend Pat, who in 2005 was still giving out an email address that was something like "ezsurfer @ netscape".