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Subscriptions We No Longer Need: Do You Still Have An AOL Account?


When Verizon bought the Internet company AOL, people mainly commented on the price. It's not worth much compared to a decade or two ago. AOL was an Internet giant recently enough that most adults can still recall it. Yet so quickly does the Internet world move that AOL also seems like a brand out of some past generation, like Burma-Shave. The reality is that many people still have AOL accounts or even AOL dial-up Internet. NPR's Aarti Shahani went looking for AOL customers in San Francisco.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Walk down Mission Street, do a random sampling of pedestrians, and in 16 minutes flat, find a real-life AOL subscriber.

MIRANDA MCCAULEY: Yeah, it's yellerkid@aol.com. It's my first email ever. I can't - I don't even know how to get rid of it.

SHAHANI: Thirty-year-old Miranda McCauley got her account when she was 12.

MCCAULEY: Because it was one of the only things that existed at the time.

SHAHANI: Some AOL subscribers even now don't have access to broadband and have to dial-up. But the last time McCauley dialed up was six years ago for the instant messaging service, AIM.

MCCAULEY: And it was because I had a romance that that was the only way we would contact each other was through AIM (laughter).

SHAHANI: That's very "Sleepless In Seattle."

MCCAULEY: Yeah. Yeah.

SHAHANI: Though one clarification, McCauley says her grandparents are the ones paying for AOL.

ADAM HUBENIG: I think that's crazy.

SHAHANI: Pedestrian Adam Hubenig maybe took the words right of your mouth.

HUBENIG: They're probably senior citizens that just don't know better is what I would imagine.

SHAHANI: Could be an elderly thing or could be bunk subscriptions to AOL were just an early sign, foreshadowing a key feature in the digital era. Hubenig admits, until recently, he paid for but didn't use Verizon's service to get Wi-Fi anywhere and it's way more expensive than AOL.

HUBENIG: Fifty dollars a month, yeah.

SHAHANI: Five-oh.

HUBENIG: Five-oh, yeah. And I kept that going for years just out of feeling that I would need access to the Internet when my phone wasn't available.

SHAHANI: Melissa Cooper pays $17 a month to store a food blog she stopped writing years ago. She barely remembers the name of the web host.

MELISSA COOPER: Well, I haven't thought about it for a long time (laughter).

SHAHANI: And it's like this recurring charge on your credit card.

COOPER: That's right, yeah (laughter). I feel like I'm like doing this confessional right now, like I'm a really bad person for just wasting this money and I should take care of it.

SHAHANI: No need for guilt. Digital things are forgettable by their very design. They don't clutter your closet or collect dust, and the Internet company isn't emailing to remind you. Christine Choi just got on Hulu Plus to watch all of "Broad City" and she decides to set up a calendar alert to remember to cancel.

CHRISTINE CHOI: Cancel Hulu Plus. I'm going to say by June 15.

SHAHANI: Do you know if that aligns with your billing cycle?

CHOI: Actually, that's a good point. So I should do it sooner.

SHAHANI: Bunk subscriptions, it's a big business, and tablets and smartphones give the industry plenty of room to grow, though I did find an app that you can pay for to uninstall the apps you bought but don't use. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We mixed up our Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan rom-coms, referring to "Sleepless in Seattle" when we meant "You've Got Mail".] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: May 14, 2015 at 12:00 AM EDT
We mixed up our Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan rom-coms, referring to Sleepless in Seattle when we meant You've Got Mail.
Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.