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An Ode to the AOL Internet CD

By Elizabeth Weitz

It’s sometimes hard to remember the days before the internet came into existence, and when you try (at least for those of us old enough to remember such a time) our memories are sepia-toned, as if we are looking at an old-timey photo printed on tintype that seem less a part of our own past and more of the kind found in The Old West series of Time Life Books.

And yet, it wasn’t so long ago that if we wanted to, say, watch porn, we had to physically leave our home and drive to a store (in which we had to walk into IN FULL VIEW OF THE PUBLIC mind you) and either rent or buy a videotape from another human being who was silently judging us.

It was horrible.

But then something happened. A new wind swept through the nation and landed in our mailbox, carrying with it a CD. Not the kind that had Boyz II Men’s latest single I’ll Make Love To You on it (although I did witness several family members pop it into their car’s CD player thinking that it was free giveaway from a new band called 100 FREE HOURS) but a CD that would provide you with the aforementioned 100 hours of free access to something called “AOL”.

We were a curious lot and so, we tentatively slid the CD into our computer and waded into uncharted territory.

But 100 hours? Could we really stay interested in 100 hours of being on the computer interwebthingy?

Um, Yeah, I Think We Could

And was there a more horribly grating, yet completely satisfying sound than:

It was our siren song, our call to prayer, the moan of a digital lover reaching orgasm and by god, we craved it.

100 hours flew by and then we logged in more, running up phone bills and charge cards waiting for the next fix to arrive in the mailbox or found between the pages of a magazine.

A CD that, like the cruelty of a drug dealer, may or may not increase our free time online…it was all a crapshoot.

And when our time was up, and we were too poor to afford another hit off the AOL crack pipe, we wept the stinging tears of the truly addicted.

Each new version came announced via TV commercials promising even more access, higher connection speeds, better graphics:

And, more importantly MORE FREE HOURS…500, 1000, 1040…you searched for these, like Charlie searching for the Golden Ticket and when you scored one, well the spell of AOL was equally as enchanting as eating an auditory version of the Everlasting Gobstopper.

But it wasn’t meant to last.

The internet was too big for AOL to contain and so we left it, used up, wrinkled, moist from use, our once greatest love became as attractive as a One-Night stand who was never supposed to sleep over.

It was harsh, but all-consuming love is like that…burning out as fast as it flares up.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, AOL did not go down without a fight, it seduced us with offers that, in our relationship heyday, would have made us soil our underwear (90 DAYS FREE!!!!!) but we had moved on by then and all those CDs sat in drawers, thrown into closets or used in epic art projects.

Or, forgotten altogether, lost to haze of selective nostalgia, longing to be rediscovered in a box in a basement, and written about as a reminder that lost love never really leaves us, it’s only waiting for someone to get off the phone so we can dial it up once again.

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