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Signing Off is Hard to Do
by David Spark
Axcess, April, 1997

I Don't Love You Anymore AOL"No more! I’ve been mistreated long enough. I’ve had ex-girlfriends that treat me better than America Online. At least they answer my phone calls…Never again! It’s over! I’m sure there’s a local service provider out there somewhere that wants to give me the kind of love and attention that I need."

Haven’t thought about leaving AOL yet? Even with previous hourly charges racking up huge bills, seemingly endless power outages, and chronic busy signals, the idea of parting company has never crossed your mind? Sounds like you’re in denial. You either want to break up with AOL or are so dumbfounded by its beauty that you just can’t bring yourself to do it. Haven’t we seen this contradictory behavior played out in dozens of John Hughes movies? At first everything’s great, then the guy treats the girl like dirt, and then it’s great again. Cue the closing credits.

Oh sure, I remember falling in love with AOL. It was a simpler time - a computer, a modem, and one of the hundreds of free disks that came in the mail. Thank you AOL, I haven’t bought a blank disk since. And just like your friendly neighborhood drug dealer, AOL generously offered the first 50 hour hit of online use free of charge. No problem, until… "Oh no, I’m hooked. I gotta get out!" Not so easy now. Can’t get a divorce with just a computer and a modem. Only two ways out of this relationship. Send a "Dear John" letter or make a phone call realizing you’ll have to answer that awkward question, "Why are you leaving me?"

Then there are the masochists who choose to stay in an abusive online relationship They’re the ones who had to face the horror of AOL’s notorious Unlimited Use Scare of ’97. What started as a casual fling turned into a torrid long distance romance. Users began hoarding quality time with AOL to the dismay of ignored family and friends who were cast aside and subsequently shut out from online nirvana. "I never get to spend any time with you. You never take me anywhere," they complained. "Fight back," the little David Horowitz’s in their heads shouted. But as many soon realized, collecting on class action lawsuits and refunds is not an easy task. I’ve had better luck getting sweaters back from ex-girlfriends.


Eight million AOL fans can be wrong.

Who wants to break up with a beautiful lover like AOL?  Reject fantastic and available sex?  Although the physical act is great, there's no real connection.Can you really trust America Online? Should a relationship be based on deceit-automatically switching users without consent from a $9.95 a month plan to a $19.95 unlimited use monthly plan, and neglect-maintaining user-modem ratios of 1:20 when the industry average is 1:10? Instead of admitting they had a problem and dealing with it, AOL chose to lavish users with gifts like refunds and credits. Vice president of product marketing, David Gang, is betting that the novelty of unlimited service will eventually wear off. Just you watch. Once the honeymoon period is over it’ll be back to maintaining crappy modem-user ratios. Don’t think this is the first time, or the last. Remember the outages? Are you beginning to notice a trend? Do you want to be hurt again? Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re a battered ‘Net user. Get out of this vicious cycle of abuse while you still have your dignity. Call 1-800-827-6364. Press "1" then "4" to cancel.

Who wants to break up with a beautiful lover like AOL? Reject fantastic and available sex? Although the physical act is great, there’s no real connection. Sure it looks great and it says 28,800 baud, but because of overcrowded servers, browsing the web feels like 9600. During AOL’s formative years, us early adopters willingly accepted the difficulties of maintaining connectivity. Although over time we’ve begun to expect more out of our online relationship.


It is better to have had AOL and lost, then not to have been online at all.

AOL, the Plato’s Retreat of the Internet, has been used to sew online oats. Learn about love, sex and the universe by sleeping around online.

For many, AOL was their first high school crush. She sure was pretty, but once you really got to know her, you realize how wrong she was for you. Don’t give up hope. It’s possible to have the best of both worlds. You know, have a relationship with a local ISP yet still be free to see AOL. Sound like something that might interest you? Then listen to this. With the new "bring your own access" plan, you pay rent to your local ISP and like some prenuptial agreement you’re entitled to invite AOL over anytime to spend the night. Whoah, cool! Open marriage.

Those who didn’t see the benefits of online communications("I don’t know if I can be with anyone anymore."), or couldn’t even handle AOL’s simple interface("You’re too good for me.") ultimately chose to quit. Out of politeness, these former users let AOL down gently utilizing classic standards like "It’s not you, it’s me" or "I know you’ll make some other online user very happy." Others were not so kind. They hated the ever popular AOL because its proprietary structure didn’t satisfy their desire for online experimentation. So during AOL’s dark weeks in February, these hackers decided to lash back. At a predetermined time, these hackers threatened to clear out chat room lobbies and the accounts of anyone online. Can you blame them? Gee, if the head cheerleader won’t go out with you, what option do you have but to TP her house?

Don’t believe AOL takes a break up sitting down. Negative publicity can tear them apart. Realizing this, AOL went on the offensive and claimed that increased usage was evidence that people are not leaving or they’re coming back? No, not the "I’m getting back together with my old boyfriend" line. Mimicking a pimp boasting that all his whores are working, David Gang deflected attention from the real problem, "The reason we’re getting busy signals is we’re obviously doing something right." Continuing with his diversionary tactics, "What’s lost in all the publicity is we have 10 million successful connections every day." That’s so true. Everyone always focuses on the negative. Sure OJ beat and killed his wife, but he did buy her a really nice house.

Don’t blame America Online. They’re just going through the same chemical changes that every adolescent multimillion dollar global corporation goes through. Their voice is cracking. Users, you and all your petty concerns about "connectivity" are stifling AOL’s need to grow. They’re blossoming. People are starting to take notice. And in return for their unbridled prosperity, AOL’s taking it out on the people who put them there. Surprise. Become a huge success, dump the old ugly wife and get yourself a trophy bride. Damn you America Online. You’ve changed. You’re not the same online service I once knew.

1997, David Spark

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