AOL’s obsessions

February 2, 2009

AOL is my ISP (imagine how meaningless that would have looked even a decade ago). This happened because I joined Compuserve at the outset, and that was taken over by AOL, which has since flogged (I think this is right) its UK arm to Carphone Warehouse (isn’t that the most clunky title for a company, the one which rolls least easily off the tongue?). And changing to a new ISP would entail the nuisance of having to go round the web changing my email address in places I don’t even remember putting it. It’s not a problem. I don’t have many issues with AOL, although I might not have sounded so well-disposed if you’d asked me during the Great Computer Crash of December. I recommend a company called The Geek Squad if you want things sorted out in a friendly and generous way – much the best service I’ve ever had. (It’s odd, isn’t it, how you start out with one company and wind up with a succession of others – I am a Goldfish user, certainly because the card looked bright and cheerful. This means, several steps later, I have become a Barclaycard user – rather sadly, at the expense of a Scottish call centre which handled the queries with friendly efficiency, and who lost their jobs in Cumbernauld after the take0ver.)

AOL provides a front page, which is always buzzing with strange headlines – and questionnaires, which I always answer, because I can’t see a choice of boxes without putting a tick in one. Their questionnaires are not very demanding. The latest was ‘Do you think Barack Obama will prove more popular than George Bush?’ Hard one, eh? Would people prefer to eat chalk or cheese? I am only worried for the sanity of the 8% who thought Bush would be more popular than Obama.

But AOL’s positive (and not always very well-spelled) obsessions run very much to ‘celebrities’, specifically celebrities who are a) naked, b) out of touch with reality, c) have just admitted to the use of substances, and d) are very badly dressed, according to a picture gallery. ‘Very badly dressed’ usually means that a snapshot has been found which makes the said celebrity look a bit off-colour – I would have thought that’s most snapshots of most people – and, ideally for AOL, which reveals some part of the said celebrity’s anatomy. An ideal AOL story would have a large-breasted celebrity wearing nothing but a deerstalker and a tatty sporran and who has just sued her ex-husband’s ex-boyfriend for stealing cocaine from a politician no-one has ever heard of, a politician who wears his trousers backwards and wears a chamber-pot on his head two days out of seven. This will be part of series of such celebrities, all of whom have done something very similar.

It could be that there is an ISP out there which employs budding economists who can explain how we got into the mess we’re in, and writes astute analyses of the meaning of credit, with handy pictures, but I doubt it somehow.

Still, you pays your money etc. etc. At least it connects me, except when it doesn’t, which is rare. And now I have, as I say,  the Geek Squad behind me to sort out the glitches. The one I hate the most is ‘Runtime Error – do you want to debug?’ Of course I do. But then I find I am invited to step into a remote cell (or something like that) and use a Script Editor, and I don’t know what I am doing at all. So I back-track.

I am pretty confident that most of us don’t know what we are doing when we are online. It is a sort of comfort.