Internet access is a funny thing when you think about it. It’s still not that great in the US and dumb expensive. Plus it doesn’t feel all that special when smart toasters and lawnmowers can log on with ease.
However, at one time, online access stood as a cutting-edge phenomenon for everyday folks. Pundits of the day branded the “world wide web” as a “great equalizer” for, well, everything and users didn’t just hop online. They went “cyber-surfing” and people saw excitement at the world getting smaller via PCs.
Plenty of ISPs fought for your dollars but America Online had the US’s phone lines on lock in the late ’90s. My folks opted to sign up for the service after my siblings and I begged them to wise up. Then we installed AOL 3.0 via floppy disk sometime in ’98 and, with that, punched our ticket into the web.
Having AOL initially made me feel like the fanciest Negro on the block. Hearing the dial-up modem drop a hot 16 during the connection process sounds so awful today but it got me amped for some cookin’ on the internets. Granted, my older sisters hogged the computer and my parents monitored my browsing. Yet any online time became great online time as an 11-12 year old. NBA.com, Nintendo’s official site, Yahoo Games and AOL’s crummy keyword pages stayed in rotation.
Oh, and AIM became so crucial as more friends and girls I sweated got online in the next year and a half.
AOL started to act like a b*tch on the regular soon afterwards. The application was a resource hog, froze the computer all the time and forced hard restarts. Then we couldn’t log on for days for no reason. A separate phone line didn’t fully alleviate the problems. Junk mail rained down on us from Lawd knows where and random disconnects plagued it as well. You’d be chilling, looking at whatever, get that “Goodbye” out the blue and end up like this.
AOL got “prettier” with every update but it didn’t matter if we got on 9.0 or 4.0. The service sucked and the gimmicky improvements with each release didn’t make up for the massive problems which persisted throughout AOL’s run.
AOL looked even worse when I went to a friend’s house in ’99 and used broadband for the first time. Pages loaded in seconds and he could download songs off Napster in an instant. Heading back home to garbage ass AOL felt like browsing in molasses after that. It took a few minutes to get a basic page to load up; you might as well quit if it was Macromedia Shockwave or Flash enabled.*
Also, online video? Forget it. Daring to test RealPlayer resulted in “Buffering 15%…Buffering 45%…Buffering 95%…..Buffering 8%” until the CPU locked up. Then again that’s more of a knock on 56k’s limitations than it is on AOL…but screw it, AOL was terrible at that too.
I’m grateful for getting my first hit at the internet via America Online. Conversely, I’m glad I haven’t used it, or dial-up internet, in over a decade and don’t miss it at all. It’s unfortunate how so many people lost their jobs as the company downsized in the past 10+ years. Then again the feeling of schadenfreude when the brand fell all the way off can’t be denied.
Thank Big Baby Jesus for broadband spreading out and becoming more affordable in AOL’s demise. Now what can we do about dropping a grip each month over a 15 Mbps connection, though?
*You know you’re internet-old if you remember Macromedia.