My Latest AOL Nightmare

My Latest AOL Nightmare

My Latest AOL Nightmare

Moneybox
Commentary about business and finance.
Feb. 3 2000 5:20 PM

My Latest AOL Nightmare

Someday, I imagine, we'll talk to our children about the often tortuous experience of trying to get and stay online, and about the snail's pace at which we accessed the Internet, in the same way that our grandparents (well, not my grandparents but grandparents in the movies) talked to us about crawling five miles to school over fields of broken glass and razor wire. (Or, what's even worse, about trying to furnish kitchens before Williams-Sonoma existed.) Our children, accustomed as they (and we, by that point) will be to download speeds of 10 megabytes a second and seamless transitions between the Net and everything else (assuming there is anything else), will imagine we're making it all up. So here's a short history of my attempt to sign on to America Online last night. Feel free to appropriate the horror story as your own. The plural of "anecdote" may not be "data," but it is "anecdotes."

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At 7 p.m, I thought I'd sign on to AOL (note to employers at Microsoft: stickiness is real--I started on AOL when I worked for The Motley Fool and have just never budged since). Here's what happened:

Attempt 1 [255-1090 Brooklyn NY (V90/X2) The number dialed is busy.

Attempt 2 [210-0456 Brooklyn NY (V90/K56) The access company failed to respond.

Attempt 3 [255-0011 Brooklyn NY (V90/X2) The number dialed is busy.

Attempt 4 [532-3001 Brooklyn NY (V90/K56) The number dialed is busy.

Attempt 5 [222-7560 Brooklyn NY (V90/K56) The number dialed is busy.

Attempt 6 [210-2620 Brooklyn NY (V90/K56) The access company failed to respond.

(AOL records every attempt to sign on in a little box at the top left-hand corner of the screen. The box doesn't tell you anything you don't already know--you can hear the busy signal, or listen to your computer stop making any noise as that damn access company fails to respond--but it does give you the comforting illusion that someone else in the world knows what's happening and is taking note of it. Not doing anything about it, to be sure. But taking note of it.)

After all six numbers failed, I switched around the order in which the computer would dial them. Practically speaking, this makes absolutely no sense. But it makes me feel as if I am not suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without reacting. The all-important switching done, I tried to sign on again, and got the following result:

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Attempt 1 [222-7560 Brooklyn NY (V90/K56) The access company failed to respond.

Attempt 2 [210-2620 Brooklyn NY (V90/K56) The number dialed is busy.

Attempt 3 [210-0456 Brooklyn NY (V90/K56) The access company failed to respond.

Attempt 4 [532-3001 Brooklyn NY (V90/K56) The access company failed to respond.

Attempt 5 [255-0011 Brooklyn NY (V90/X2) The number dialed is busy.

Attempt 6 [255-1090 Brooklyn NY (V90/X2) The number dialed is busy.

Surprisingly, perhaps, my computer screen survived this experience, although my neighbors were undoubtedly wondering what someone could have done to occasion my Nixonian yells of expletive-ridden frustration. Finally, after waiting a while--I just couldn't bear to go back in so soon--I decided to try a different borough, and called Manhattan.

Attempt 1 [1-212-238-4340 New York, NY (V90/K56) The number dialed is busy.

Eventually, I did get online (only to find that my e-mail box was empty). And the awful truth, of course, is that when I did, I felt not a wave of disgust, but rather a wave of gratitude that someone had finally let me get off the on-ramp. And you know what? That's a wave of gratitude our spoiled children will never feel.