Sunday, April 14, 2024

PHALON’S FILE—I’ve Got Mail!

I still have—and use—my original AOL email address. More accurately, it is my America Online email. 

Because I got into the Internet pretty early, it’s an easy one to remember. Simply my first initial and my last name. Try to get that on Gmail! 

As far as I can determine, I have now had that email address—jphalon@aol.com, if you’d like to send me a recipe or something—for 25 years, which was just about the time my job took a sudden turn toward the internet.

To give you an idea of where the net was at the time, this is how my induction into the online world commenced: In the great steel and granite tower of a major national magazine, my gruff but lovable boss called me into his office and said, “Phalon, I want you to get us a presence on the internet!” 

“Can do, boss!” I dutifully responded, as I peered out over the skyline of the metropolis. Then I got on a subway, then a train, and made my way to the playroom where I found my 4-year-old son and asked him, “What’s the internet and how do I get a presence on it?” 

He already knew more about it than I did. 

There were few books or manuals about getting on the internet in the mid-90s. Certainly no websites. I learned to write code in HTML, or I should say, I taught myself by trial-and-error.

Mostly error. HTML is the computer code that makes a web page look the way it does. If you’re curious, find the “source” button on your web browser. Most of that code today is generated automatically, but at the dawn of the internet, it had to be written one keystroke at a time. 

At the office, we set up a rudimentary email system and assigned addresses to the first few test subjects. We figured if we used everyone’s initials, as in jp@ournewwebsite.com, we’d have enough combinations to last forever. As if. 

Email wasn’t entirely new at the time. There were companies such as CompuServe and Prodigy that offered messaging between users of those services. CompuServe then developed one of the first open email systems.

Their email addresses used numbers instead of names, so your email address would be something like 588299@compuserve.com. This service was popular with journalists and other snobs, like people who listened only to vinyl records. 

When America Online started offering email addresses with actual words, CompuServe clients proudly flaunted their numerical emails, sneering at the great unwashed masses that were signing up for AOL. 

Eventually CompuServe went the way of Netscape, Blackberry and MySpace. Besides, who could remember all those numbers anyway? It’s like when we had to remember dozens of phone numbers rather than simply say, “Hey Google, call Fred.”

Most of the millennials running the world today hear only legends of having to actually dial the phone or the days when AOL ruled the universe.

But AOL remains a shadow of what it once was. I’ve kept my AOL address since those nascent days of the internet. I’ve had many other emails come and go since, but I remain jphalon@aol.com and I’m proud.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.