EVERETT — America Online is the dinosaur of digital, but we’ve still got mail.
While the rest of you Gmail away, The Daily Herald reporters Janice Podsada and Andrea Brown are sending electronic mail like it’s 1993, the birth year of AOL.
Outside of work, find us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
We’re not ashamed.
We’re used to the snickers and sneers when asked for our email address.
It doesn’t stop there.
Then come the condescending questions: “Do you still have to insert the disc when you use that?” “What’s your dial-up speed?”
We’ve lost count of the times we’ve heard people imitate the whoosh-clang-clatter of the modem.
Recruiters and headhunters advise job-seekers to leave the AOL address off the resume. Nothing screams, “I’m a lost cause!” like an AOL inbox. That’s OK, we’re gainfully employed, as print newspaper reporters.
firstname.lastname@example.org loaded her first AOL disk onto her 15-pound laptop in the 1990s while tuned into Nirvana.
Meanwhile, email@example.com was logged onto her 8-bit Commodore 64 computer while listening to Hootie & the Blowfish on a boombox.
In 1998, AOL took center stage in the rom-com “You’ve Got Mail,” starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. That was back when people surfed the net. Say what?
Not every AOL user is Medicare-eligible, however.
Take Clay Teeters, a hip Seattle guy.
Teeters set up a free AOL account when he was 12. A year later in middle school, he switched to a more dignified Gmail address. His AOL still exists to collect promos and spam.
“I maybe check it once a year,” Teeters said.
He doesn’t worry about ridicule from his friends.
“They probably don’t know what AOL is,” he said.
America Online launched its CD bombardment campaign the same year President George H. W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II.
You couldn’t escape.
AOL CDs were history’s greatest junk mail.
One billion CDs with free trials were produced. At one point, half of the CDs worldwide had an AOL logo, in 4,000 different designs.
The AOL discs were everywhere — in your mailbox, in cereal boxes, inside frozen packages of Omaha Steaks. Thirty years ago, the average house sold for $113,000, a gallon of gas cost $1.11, but 500 hours of AOL? Free. Free. Free.
Not to be outdone, CompuServe, Prodigy and Global Network Navigator were also willy-nilly mass mailing their own CDs and floppies.
But try to find one of those free AOL discs today? Forget about it.
A check of local thrift, antique and record stores turned up nothing.
“If we did get them in, we’d throw them away,” said a clerk at the Value Village store in Everett.
Sellers are trying to cash in on eBay.
“Surf up to 5x faster” reads a vintage AOL disk going for $9.99, or best offer.
At its peak in 2000, there were 23 million subscribers to American Online with handles easy to set up and change. Even Homer Simpson had one, firstname.lastname@example.org. (Not anymore. We just tried writing him.)
More than 1.5 million subscribers still pay a monthly fee for an AOL email account, years after it became free in 2006 for those savvy enough to opt out.
We found our way out of the shackles.
email@example.com was able to flip from fee to free with help from one of her kids.
firstname.lastname@example.org didn’t quit paying the $10 AOL monthly fee until 2014, when a Wells Fargo banker in Omaha showed her how to cut the cord.
“Help,” she said. “I’ve got this recurring charge and I don’t know how to cancel it!”
The shift from dialup to broadband cable led to the decline of AOL. “You’ve got mail” turned to “You’ve got stale.”
Hotmail came along. And Yahoo and MSN and Juno. Gmail accounted for over a third of all emails opened by 2021, according to email campaign provider Mailchimp.
andie37 and jpodsada did not.
As actor Paul Rudd told Playboy Magazine in 2011: “Having an AOL address is like wearing Ocean Pacific shorts. It’s so uncool that it’s cool.”
In 2011, Insider Magazine trumpeted that AOL email addresses were cool again — ditto a 2015 Reddit discussion group touting their retro return.
Thirty years later, guess what? AOL still offers paid subscriptions, including dial-up service. Or you can sign for a free AOL email account and be part of the in crowd like us. No disc though.
“We’re no longer sending those,” said Sam in tech support.
Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; email@example.com;
Andrea Brown:425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterbrown; email@example.com
Talk to us
- You can tell us about news and ask us about our journalism by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 425-339-3428.
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