The End of My First Cyberlove

Why I (Justabout) Broke Things Off With AOL

Written by Cliff Yankovich

"They say that breakin' up is hard to do.."

Yup, it's over between us - almost. Our relationship began at work over two years ago, then we took it home and I pretty much figured it was going to be me and AOL forever. You don't know me and have no reason to believe me, but my intention was always to have a permanent, long term thing. I'm not one of those guys out hopping from ISP to ISP looking for instant internet gratification. All lasting relationships are about give and take. Well, things reached the point where I kept giving every month and I just couldn't take it any more. That is NOT the give and take one has in mind for any relationship.

(Soothing background music swells slightly and continues throughout.)

When I finally called to terminate service, as I sat in front of my screen obediently following the phone prompts, I did my best to find the exact "moment" when things began to slide. (To demonstrate how hard this was for me, I actually had another connection up and running with an AT&T cable modem before I could make the call.) In retrospect, the breakdown would have to coincide with the introduction of version 7.0. We had been through upgrades together before - lots of them, but this one was different. As mentioned above, I was in for the long haul. Plus I kept buying the story that these upgrades were "improvements" designed to make our relationship stronger. Hah!

Version 7.0 promised me what every Net user wants: Better, faster, and more possibilities than ever before. It was with a certain amount of joy and anticipation that the new version was loaded into my trusty tower. But within a couple of days it was obvious things weren't right. Occasional computer freezes when clicking about online or in Microsoft Works programs were becoming unbearable. We had experienced some of this with version 6.0, but the problems escalated. Then my modem refused to co-operate from time to time - once it happened in the midst of a flurry of e-mails to an AOL techie who was helping me with the freezing. Then, no hook-up at all. Hmmm, should a modem slightly over 2 years old bite the dust all of the sudden? No huge deal, a nominal amount of money combined with 10 minutes effort and a new modem was installed. The connection was made and happiness appeared to return to our life together.

One day later it happened again - couldn't even get a dial tone. I had AOL technical help on speed dial and called them pronto. As my heart ached with disappointment, they told me it wasn't their fault and suggested the manufacturer of the modem should be contacted. (Don't you just love those deals, like when the tire guy blames the manufacturer of the rim who blames the supplier who has you call the tire store?)

My expectations were for some serious Blame Ping-Pong when I called the help line listed in the modem handbook. What a surprise when the Man From New Jersey was a great help. When I described the incidents leading up to my call, he had me open the tower and simply click the modem in and out of its spot. (Made sense to me - how many software glitches have been repaired with the old re-boot fix?) The MFNJ even stayed on the phone to see if his fix fixed it.

As we waited for the machine to re-boot, we chatted a bit. He put the blame all over AOL's new software and planted a big seed about getting myself hooked up with a cable modem. "No dial up time. Way faster than AOL," he said. His conviction strengthened when everything worked fine after his simple solution. The MFNJ even suggested there was nothing wrong with the old modem and he was proved right in this as well. The damage was done - I felt betrayed... hurt... used. His analysis of events and the placing of blame on AOL would not have been palatable for me if not for the foundation laid with the freezing incidents. When cracks appear in a relationship, words, ideas and concepts that would have been instantly rejected before now gain toe holds.

For you see, the AOL tech told me that there were problems with AOL's software not working well with "some Microsoft products". Remember we were in the middle of addressing THAT when the modem migraine commenced. Can you imagine the software of the company that owns the biggest portion of ISP business NOT playing nice with the software of the mega-goliath Microsoft? My question at this point is who are the AOL. In all those previous revisions shouldn't compatibility problems with Microsoft have been addressed?

So now my relationship with AOL needed to be addressed - things were strained to the Nth degree. It just didn't feel the same to log on anymore. There was no rush of excitement upon hearing, "Welcome. You've got mail", from my disembodied buddy at AOL. Up until this point I had been willing to overlook the hypocrisy of a company that would do anything to prevent me from "spamming" anyone with an unsolicited e-mail while at the same time hitting me with unsolicited ads every time I logged on. I could live with the static ads on the Welcome page - shoot, I used to sell radio advertising and I know what it takes to make the world go round. It is a different matter when one is forced to click one's way to a clear path before even checking the mailbox! I was paying them monthly for the service. That would be akin to hearing an advertisement before I could dial out every time I picked up the phone.

"Good Morning Cliff, the new Titanium Visa is the answer to your life problems. Stay on the phone to learn more. If you want to actually make a call on the line you pay us every month to use, then press 9 now." Who would put up with that? Not me. With a new found determination I decided it was all over. (Sorry to vent, I had no idea the bitterness ran so deep.)

AOL was almost as shocked as a couple of my ex-wives when I called to end it all. The lady on the other end sounded truly saddened, (a paid professional, no doubt). She asked me to explain why I was terminating service after all this time. After all that was done to me and I have to explain??? How typical. To make matters even worse, I started feeling guilty about breaking up! Did I blast her with my real feelings about the obnoxious pop-up ads? Did I empty my spleen with a blow by blow recounting of the hassles of the past few weeks? Did I bring to her attention the modem I bought for no-good-reason other than AOL won't own up to software problems? Did I raise my voice and pound the desk with righteous indignation? Nope - I lost my nerve.

"Well, uhhhm," I mumbled, "I decided to get a cable modem installed."

Then she made me confess about my relationship with AT&T. I spilled my guts about how we had been connecting for a couple of weeks. All stops were pulled at this point. She, on behalf of the Big Corporate She, did what she could to keep me hanging on to a relationship gone bad. Was it my imagination or did her voice drop an octave and become more breathy as she asked me to keep my cable modem, but to stay involved with both AOL and AT&T for a reduced monthly fee?

"Excuse me, but I am NOT that kind of man", I said, "No dice."

When I passed on that "opportunity", her voice got even more broken-hearted sounding and she offered to let me keep access to my AOL e-mail account free for 3 more months. I broke down. I caved. My friends, a combination of manipulation, feminine wiles and the awesome power of FREE has kept this tangled Web intact for the time being. (Admittedly aided by my lack of a spine.)

Okay, so I'm a weak-kneed sucker. A pushover. However, with the strength I am receiving from friends, family and a Tuesday evening support group, I am going to end this painful, destructive, expensive relationship in 90 days. Really... I mean it this time.

"Hello everybody, my name is Cliff and I am an ISP slut."