On AOL, And The Email Addresses We Give Up As We Grow Older


I used to be an AOL email user. I joined back in the 90s during my puberty years when email was just becoming popular. My parents signed up and actually paid money to have a family AOL account. They barely knew how to turn on a computer, but were excited about the prospect of having their very own email addresses with their first and last names where they could send messages back and forth to each other. They got some unspoken satisfaction when the “You’ve got mail!” voice gladly notified them that Macy’s was giving them a coupon or that my sister or me had responded to their emails after the dial-up connection went through.

Almost every email address one could possibly desire was available then. It was a time before passwords needed numbers, symbols, and capital letters. They didn’t need to be changed every 30 days. It was the good old days, the ones we’ll be telling our grandkids about. I kept my AOL email address and remained loyal to it through college and law school. I slapped it on resumes when job searching. I connected it to my bank accounts, mailing lists for all the stores I shopped at, and at doctors’ offices. After almost 20+ years of using the same email address, it had become as ingrained into me as my social security number. Home addresses came and went. Jobs came and went. Friends came and went. But my AOL email address remained a constant fixture.

My 3-year-old nephew started to have a relationship with the “AOL guy.” Whenever I visited, he begged me to engage my sister’s outdated computer and “make it talk.” Each time I logged in to my AOL email, he squealed and cheered in delight when the booming, “You’ve got mail!” man’s voice filled the room. He started to believe that there was an actual person living in the computer and was both fascinated and terrified by him.

I was proud of my AOL address as I felt it gave me a sort of vintage prestige and wisdom in applying for more sophisticated legal roles. Potential employers would not view me as a junior, inexperienced applicant once they saw my old school email address. That email address meant that I had some real legal veteran knowledge, learned a few things and was loyal to something.

My parents finally realized that nobody spent money for email anymore and stopped paying the monthly fee. They got frustrated when their friends repeatedly told them that they were receiving spam mail from their AOL addresses. My father became the victim of a phishing scam after he provided his personal details in response to an email requesting confirmation of such information. It resulted in identity theft that has been torturing him to this day. Still, my parents, sister, and I clung stubbornly to our email addresses.

Why are we so attached to our email addresses? What do they say about us? Is using part of our first or last names mean that we are unoriginal? If we incorporate our birthdays, lucky numbers, or the date that we lost our virginity within our email addresses, does that make them harder to give up when technology demands that we switch to something new? Do we just not want to learn a new system when our current system is clearly failing? Do we loathe coming up with new passwords and answering security questions?

I think it comes down to this: change is hard and it’s especially hard for the generation of email users who worked so hard to become familiar with email in the first place.

My AOL address will simply not accept emails from Paperless Post. I’ve missed several invitations to parties and friends think that I’m rude. Sure, I could attempt to figure out how to adjust my email settings, but if I have an AOL email address, am I really expected to know how to do this?

My AOL address was easy to remember. My name and my birthday. Simple enough. I felt that if I changed this address, nobody would ever be able to get in touch with me again. It wasn’t until I had a baby and started making younger, hipper new mom friends that I questioned what my AOL email address was doing to my reputation.

“I’m going to be honest with you, Stace. Your AOL address ages you,” one of these friends pointed out.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “At least 20 years.”

I signed up for a Gmail account that afternoon. I had to try several times to find an address that wasn’t taken. I also had to come up with a creative password that I’ll never remember. But I feel like I’ve joined the living again.

Getting a new email address is the equivalent of moving homes and needing to update everyone of your new address. Like changing a cell phone number. Or changing your last name after getting married. Will people take the time to update my information in their contact lists or will I just be dropped altogether? Will they get annoyed or confused? What if important, life-changing emails get sent to my old address and I don’t receive it because I’ve moved on? Will it ever feel as comfortable navigating a new inbox as in my former life?

Since I’ve entered the Gmail life, I haven’t fallen off the map yet. With so much social media, alumni directories, Google search information, etc., it’s very hard to stay under the radar these days. Yes, family and friends may get confused, but since my old account was shooting out SPAM every other day, they’re more grateful than put out. I can forward emails from my old account to the new one and yes, already, I’m starting to feel at home in the Gmail universe.

Now that I’m so modern and youthful, I’ll soon be a regular customer at Forever 21 and Abercrombie. Who needs a facelift and Botox when you can just join Gmail and be embraced by the younger, cool kids?

I only wish someone had told me about this earlier.

I’ve started getting less phone calls from legal recruiters. Clearly, my hip Gmail address is too intimidating and risky for them. They prefer someone who has stacks of banking regulations in their original, dusty hard cover publications sitting on their bookshelf. That used to be me along with my AOL email, but I’ve journeyed a long way back to my youth since then.

At my new account, I’m getting emails from online dating websites, web design companies and iHeartRadio Music Festival contests. I’ve yet to be found by Alaskan cruises companies and the AARP — perhaps they assumed that I passed away? My Gmail account has virtually removed fine lines, wrinkles and even gray hairs. I’m more confident, my emails are all paired up by subject matter and I may even attend an Ariana Grande concert soon, if she goes on tour.

featured image – Markus Spiske