Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Bad Breakup. E-mail: A Love Story

I'm going through a very messy breakup and some of my friends are taking sides. For reasons both shallow and practical I switched from AOL to Gmail. Yes, there was some peer pressure involved. It seemed like everybody who was anybody had a Gmail email address. It said, “I’m young, I’m hip and I’m hot.” AOL wheezed, “I’m old, I’m tired and I’m not.” AOL is the dividing line between people who may have once [gasp] paid for email and those who never have.

I’d tell people my AOL address and they’d look at me with a mingled look of surprise and pity as if to say, “You? You’re still with AOL?” I could tell they now thought less of me. If I told someone my AOL email address over the phone I’d hear that uncomfortable, palpable and yet increasingly familiar moment of judgmental silence that said, “Seriously?” I mind as well be talking to them on my 1989 Motorola flip phone, a pager on my left hip, a Sony Walkman on my right listening to mixed tapes I made on my JVC Boom Box.

It got to the point where I was apologizing before I gave out my email. I’d beat them to the punch and insult myself saying: “My email address is and I churn my own butter."

But AOL and I were having problems long before this. Back in the day, having AOL installed on your computer led to problems that would make even the best computer tech geek cry. Somewhere, there’s a guy named Charlie. He’s curled up in the corner of a white-padded room clutching an old Dell Latitude laptop. He’s rocking back and forth saying, “AOL 9. AOL 9. Don’t install AOL 9.” 

The web-based version wasn’t much better. It would freeze without warning and suddenly be unavailable, always it seemed when I needed it most. God forbid I ever had to send an email with an attachment. Watching the frozen cursor was an exercise in Zen meditation.

No matter how many times I logged in and checked the “Remember Me” box, AOL never did. It always made me log in again. This was particularly frustrating if I’d just accidentally closed the web page. “Seriously, AOL? I was just here!” Was this a security measure? Maybe, but treating me like a stranger every time led to our inevitable estrangement. To complicate things, I was coordinating both AOL and Outlook on my BlackBerry. I know. I was just asking for trouble. But when it worked it was wonderful, it was Big Love. But when it failed it did so in spectacular fashion. It was the ultimate technical Ménage à trois where I’d end up getting screwed, but not in a good way.

The last straw was when I logged into my AOL account and there was nothing there. All my email was gone. It eventually came back, but I was done. And Gmail was there, waiting for me. It said — in a voice that sounded suspiciously like Vin Diesel’s — “Come to Papa.” And Gmail made the transition easy. It effortlessly imported all my old AOL emails and contacts. I guess it’s as close to carefree as Windows users will ever come. 

But the real work, however, was in all the stuff that wasn’t automated. A lot of personal and professional correspondence came to my AOL address, not to mention numerous mailing list subscriptions. As the now forwarded emails rolled in, I braced myself and patiently set to the task of updating my profile with each.

I had decided not to do a giant mass e-mail announcement letting everyone know that AOL and I had parted ways. Instead I did it quietly with a soft roll out. As people emailed me, I replied with the good news, or so I thought. The responses varied. There were those, usually fellow members of Gmail Nation, who greeted and welcomed me with open arms. There was definitely a “you’re one of us now” kinda vibe. “No judgement. We all make mistakes. We’re just glad you’re here now. Try the Kool Aid. It’s delicious.”

Others, the majority of people, made no comment at all. A brief thank you for keeping them in the loop. They updated their address books and kept it moving. But there have been some loyalist hold outs. The folks who seem to be taking my defection from AOL as a personal affront. 
“How could you? AOL was there for you from the beginning, and you left it for the first sweet-talking, web-based email provider offering less spam, a superior search, conversation views and built in chat? Jezebelian Harlot!”

No one has actually said this, of course. I infer it from the behavior of the people who still continue to email me at AOL despite my numerous return messages reminding them that I am now with Gmail. Oh for sure, some of them have made excuses: “I keep forgetting. I don’t know how to update my address book. My computer won’t let me do that.” Uh huh. Sure. 

There’s always fallout after a breakup, the messy aftermath of disentangling long-time commingled lives. And I guess my email relationship is no different. Some people were bound to choose AOL over me. But I’m in a better place now. Gmail accepts me and my baggage ... I mean attachments. I wish AOL all the best, but I’m now.

PS: Note to BlackBerry, Get your app game together, Son. Android’s got game and knows how to woo a woman who's not afraid to make a change. 

Join The Urban Erma on Facebook or follow on Twitter. You can listen to the podcast on Podbean or subscribe on iTunesLeighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.  

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