It's OK - I'll admit to it.
My name is David, and I am an AOL user.
When cable internet first arrived at my home in 2002, I was ecstatic. Finally, I could surf the Web the same way I had at school, using just a browser and an IM client. I said "Ciao" to the welcome screen, the parental controls and the hideous lag on my surfing.
So why, then, am I still considered an active AOL user? I can't seem to part with my e-mail address.
I've had my moniker/screen name since middle school, sometime around 1996 to be specific. I use it - or some variation - for everything including AIM, credit card sites, networking sites and more. I'm attached to the name.
Oh online identity, how you rule my life.
I use GMail actively and have been working to part ways with the AOL account. While my family has dropped to the free AOL plan, the @aol.com address still haunts my very existence. My mother agrees - it's got us locked in. Thankfully we just don't have to pay for it anymore.
The people of my generation are bounded by our cyber-identities. Unlike working with the U.S. Postal Service, there's no incredibly easy way to switch e-mail addresses. Forwards only last for so long and do not force other users to update their address books, if they even have them. Sure, you can use third-party update programs, but until EVERYONE is on-board with those, its pointless. I can count on two hands the number of friends or acquaintances I've seen switch screennames since high school ended. For a buddy list of more than 300 people, that's not a lot.
Although young, I recall slaving over my screenname choice - it's almost as if I was having to pick my social security number. Once my friends had the name, I knew changing it would be difficult. Sure, the close friends hear about the change right away ... but that one high school friend you only talk to occasionally? You'd fly off his radar forever.
While MySpace and Facebook have helped cure that threat a little, I still find it hard to part ways with the eight alphanumeric characters I've held so near and dear during the past ten years.
There is one solution I'd like to see take place more often: personal domain names. I've been the proud owner of a domain since 2003, using it to host my columns and writings from high school and college. The process of obtaining and maintaining a domain name is still far-fetched and scary to so many people. While AOL and other companies are trying to make it easier, their solutions still appear to come packaged with other vanities people don't want. We need a simple solution that allows registration and maintenance so easy that my 81-year-old grandfather could do it.
If one already exists, it certainly hasn't advertised itself well enough.