Commentary

Attack Of The Killer AOL Disks

One of the obsolete meanings of ‘rage’ is ‘insanity’. Last night, on what is usually a tranquil six-block walk home from the subway, I clearly understood the relationship of those two words as I witnessed a half-dozen boys attack—and I mean ATTACK—pedestrians with, yes, AOL CD-ROMs. Really.

Somewhere they had obtained a whole bunch of the little marketing masterpieces that have had so much to do with AOL’s success and turned them into lethal little mini-frisbees, launching them randomly at any person or pet who happened by. And there were quite a few targets of opportunity, including some elderly women who probably wouldn’t respond well to receiving a fast-moving CD-ROM in the head.

Unexpectedly finding myself in the middle of this fusillade, I was able to notice that some of the projectiles were still sheathed in their original full-plastic jacket (“1000 Hours Free!”) while others zipped nakedly by, shimmering and glittering before sacrificing themselves into buildings, cars, and the occasional person.

In Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” there is a scene where Alex and his gang use the most modern implements of their futuristic world to cause complete mayhem. It is the overlap of the ultra-modern with the ultraviolence that gives the scene its horrifying effect, an effect that suddenly became all too real for me.

Other pedestrians taking fire around me scattered and doormen ducked into the safety of their buildings. I was left more or less alone to confront the hail of digital ninja-type flying stars, wondering where the hell was Rudy Giuliani during this, my time of greatest need. I further realized I was ill-equipped to defend myself physically in the situation, since the aerodynamics of flying AOL CD-ROMs caused them to rise, dip, and dive in a way that would bewilder an NHL goalie. I was unwilling to defend myself verbally, unwilling to feel the embarrassment of yelling something like “Hey, you there, stop throwing those CD-ROMs at me!” Although I grudgingly had to admit that AOL’s flying marketing gems were indeed ubiquitous. In fact they have long passed the point of excess and have become urban ordnance, the very ordnance I was now doing my best to avoid.

Unable to move around the barrage, I tried to make my way through it by using my computer case as a shield. But this had the effect of making me into an even more visible target, and several CD-ROMs spun by my head. The irony of using a laptop computer as defense from AOL disks was lost on me at the time.

After several minutes the boys’ weaponry was exhausted and I was able to make it home without taking a hit. This isn’t AOL’s fault, of course, not even as an unintentional accomplice. But it is AOL’s goal to reach 100% market penetration, and one of their best tools continues to be the free CD-ROM.

A few years ago, when it first arrived in large quantities, the AOL CD-ROM was commonly called a coaster. After last night’s adventure, for me it is a coaster no more.

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