Today in “Be Careful What You Wish For”

A lot of the tech help that I perform is for my older patrons. A lot of these folks had never had an email account before they got Verizon or Comcast Internet service, which they only got in the first place because it came with their cable service.

Historically, I have had issues with how the Verizon and Comcast email services have operated.

  1. They just suck. The interfaces are confusing and unintuitive. They’re spam magnets. Even functionality is uneven. Attachments fail to send, device tie-in is weak, the service blocks random useful/important stuff, pages fail to load, etc. Problems! I have so many.
  2. When the Internet service ends, so does access to the email service.

How often did I wish for Verizon email to disappear forever! And of course, as of early 2018, it did. The company graciously admitted that there were “more capable” email services out there…because it had acquired one.

Verizon acquired AOL. AOL? Really? Yup.

Then it force-migrated all of its customers over, causing my elderly patrons to be terribly confused. AOL isn’t exactly the prince of email providers itself, but if it’s a frog then at least it’s a step up from the actual slug-on-a-hot-sidewalk email service that Verizon used to provide.

In fact, AOL seems to have improved things somewhat in terms of service quality. It appears that users can keep their AOL accounts after Verizon service termination even though their addresses would still read as “@verizon.net”. Apparently getting acquired by a powerful Internet provider has its perks.

So ultimately, I don’t have a problem with the fact that Verizon sent everyone to AOL. I have a problem with the fact that this is the tech landscape that my older patrons have to deal with. As far as most of them are concerned, using the Internet is like doing Crossfit: it looks cool, the results are often impressive, but they’d generally prefer not to participate. They won’t choose to switch email providers given a chance, and when it happens to them regardless, it just cements their already-established distrust of technology and sense of helplessness.

But it’s not optional. They can’t not have email. It’s their conduit to their families, how they request housing services, how they talk to their doctors, how they apply for jobs. And stuff like this will keep happening – the Internet is an unstable place and businesses (and email services) will come and go. If tech keeps advancing like it is now, I wonder what I’ll find bewildering when I’m 75 and how it will impact my own life. I suspect the key to avoiding my patrons’ fate is to use tech and keep using it, even if that means corneal implants and universal biometric ID. That’s going to require a sustained financial investment that librarian-me may one day be unable to afford, but that’s a topic for another post.

For my patrons, there’s no good solution except education, which of course I provide. It’s an issue that’s likely to keep my library in business for a long time. It’s not like there are basic tech classes out there for people who didn’t grow up with computers. It’s also a good answer to the flippant comments I get about library irrelevance.

Them: yuk yuk chuckle I didn’t even know we had libraries anymore guffaw!

Me: Who do you think taught your grandma to use Facetime?

On a side note, Verizon’s apparently acquiring parts of Yahoo too. Here’s hoping they fix the spam and scare page issues while not going mad with power and becoming a horrifying heterogeneous Internet monopoly that eats net neutrality laws for breakfast.



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