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OK. Maybe I’m being paranoid. But my dear friend Judy just crumbled under the pressure and decided to give up her beloved dial-up service and switch to high-speed. She and I were both hold-outs – until I finally caved last year. But she’s stronger than I am and was determined to stick with it and not allow herself to be bullied into changing. And now, she too has fallen. And I’m not so sure it was an accident. (More on that later.)

Now I know most of you are saying “Well what’s the big deal anyway? High-speed’s great.”

Well, the big deal is that she was happy with what she had and didn’t feel like changing. A radical state of mind in a consumerist society, I fear. Still, she saw no reason to follow the bleating masses and would have stayed with dial-up forever if possible. But then…mysteriously… stuff started to go weird.

A few months ago, she started getting strange pop-ups that told her she needed to upgrade software and nothing could stop them…not even clicking “ok”. (Because clearly things weren’t ok.) But when Judy asked AOL about it, they just said “You have to reinstall your AOL.” That went on for a while to no avail. (Similar thing happened to me before I caved.) So she called AOL back and they said “Oh! You have an old version. Get the new one.”

Of course, with their new handy-dandy user-disoriented policies they wouldn’t send her a CD. So instead, even though she’s handicapped and it’s tough for her to get around, she had to go to several places they suggested until she found the latest AOL CD-ROM. And finally, after installing the new version, it looked like things were ok. For a while. But then she started getting bumped off more and more frequently and for the last few weeks, she’s been getting bumped off a lot – sometimes every 5 minutes or so. So when she calls AOL this time, what do you think they tell her?

That’s right…”You need to reinstall your AOL.” Which she did. Three more times. She’s really good at it now. But still, the problem persisted. SO…she called AOL again, and…oh…I see you’re ahead of me now. They told her she needs the newest version, even though the “old” one was installed about 5 months ago. And of course, they couldn’t mail it to her.

So that did it. She called her cable provider and they gave her a great deal. And now in just a few more days she’ll be getting high speed. And I’m sure she’ll learn to love it as much as I do – despite my own initial resistance.

But…all that said…I started thinking about my own experience with AOL and couldn’t help seeing how similar the situations were. Could there be more to this than mere coincidence? Maybe so.

Think about it. Anyone who is still on dial-up is probably extremely resistant to change of any kind – as long as things are working. So…is it so hard to imagine that AOL has a secret team of staffers whose entire job is to drive dial-up users crazy until they finally give in? I can just see it. A group of wild-eyed techies devoted entirely to creating annoying disturbances like weird pop-ups and variable rate disconnects scientifically researched to destroy the will of even the most dedicated Luddites. Judy was my hero, having held out as long as she did. But I can just imagine the rabid AOL hit squad zeroing in on her, kind of like the old game Battleship:

“Luddite detected in sector 4-A.”

“Got her in my sites.”

“Shoot her the ‘download this’ pop-up box.”

“Done.”

“She’s still there.”

“Send it again.”

“She’s hanging in, sir.”

“Not for long. Give her the 5-2-7-3-9-2-2 minute interval disconnect routine.”

“Oh, I love that one. Done, sir.”

“She’s still hanging in there. But I think you hit one of her subs.”

“Zap her with the same routine for the next 5 days straight and then give her a break letting her think it’s ok. Then…BAM! Zap her with the super dooper mega-routine.”

“That’s so beautiful, sir. I could cry.”

(Five days later.) “Reporting back on that Judy situation, sir. Mission accomplished. We received word she’s dialing her cable company right this minute.”

“Hah! Congratulations, Agent Orange! You sank another one!”

“Proud to do my job, sir. These damn Luddites threaten all we hold near and dear to our hearts.”

“You’re right there, young man. Well…Sector 4-A is clear. But there are some real activist trouble-maker hold-outs in Sector 4-B. Let’s go git ’em!”

“God I love my job!” (Wiping a tear of joy from his eye.)

And now Judy has joined the rest of us nameless, faceless masses who’ve been brought over to the high-speed side. Of course, I’d be a lot sadder at the loss of one of our bravest fighters if it weren’t for the fact that I can now send her all those cool YouTubes she could never watch before. Man I love them. (Hey…I told you I was weak.)

Still, I can’t help feeling the hit squad still out there. Somewhere where they can’t be seen. Watching. Waiting. It doesn’t end with dial-up you know.