In 1998, I was working as an office manager for a ServiceMaster franchise and for the first time in my life, I had Internet access. My boss was an AOL free trial abuser for sure and when he ran out of billing methods to use without getting caught, he ‘allowed’ me to start a free trial for myself, with a screen name for him too of course. I was known then as Rose16504. I spent a lot of time alone in the office when the guys were out performing their restoration services and poking around on AOL was my favorite past time. How could I know that it was the start of something SO transformative to my life’s trajectory?
My first action online was a comment left on the 60 Minutes website. I had watched a story the previous Sunday and was delighted that I could provide my kudos directly to the show through the magic of ‘The Web.’ In those days, just a few television broadcasts had begun to include their URL to the end credits of the show. Now every show has their own hash tag for social media interaction, cool.
The next thing I did online was to search for Oprah. She was in the middle of her famous Texas beef trial and I wanted to learn more. In addition to the trial details that came up in my search, I also found an Oprah chat room. Remember chat rooms? This was not an Oprah sponsored chat room instead a place where her fans on AOL had gathered to talk about the trial, Oprah shows and guests and how their lives had been influenced by Oprah’s show.
This is where I started to learn about online etiquette. TYPING IN ALL CAPS was shouting. LMFAO was probably my favorite short cut and it’s definitely where I started to use emoticons. 🙂 I met women from all across the country. If I remember correctly, there may have been a token man or two in our group but we were almost exclusively women. We talked about our kids, jobs and all of the shared experiences of being women. Once I got really comfortable with the group I even traded phone numbers with a few chatters and we spent an afternoon calling each and ROFLing at the novelty of putting a voice (with the regional accent) together with a screen name.
After a couple of years, the group even organized a tiny convention in Las Vegas that I attended. This was my first experience at meeting IRL, those with whom I’d shared so much online. A second trip to California included spending the day w/ Joyce aka JWCEM. She had become one of my favorite chatters. I met her hubby and we had a lovely lunch at a seaside restaurant near San Francisco. I was hooked and I’ve been making real human connections online ever since.
This sweet experience with the Oprah chat room was one of the main reasons that I went to work for AOL when they opened a call center in Oklahoma City. I was excited by the prospect of being a part of a dot com empire. It didn’t even matter that I had never owned a computer, I used my mad customer service skills to get through even the toughest of calls. From my calculations, I fielded over 40,000 calls in my tenure at AOL, including a very cool assignment on the TTP line for the deaf community. I learned so much about myself during that time and with the help of some amazing nerds, I discovered the whole world could be accessed through that desk top computer.
Now I blog, mostly from a tiny computer that I hold in my hand and from the analytical info provided by Google, I’m tickled to death when I see that a reader from Australia has read my posts. What really blows my mind is that they leave a comment, we have things in common and we’re making a global connection. I also micro-blog on Twitter. Snippets of life, expressed in 140 characters or less – engaging others who may live down the street or across the pond in the UK.
That little shiny free trial cd from AOL was really the start of a love affair with the world. It helped me to start finding my voice as a writer. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That analogy is perfect for my employment with AOL but more than that, I can thank them for what was the start of me finding myself.
Wife, mom and nana to 3 perfect grandchildren, Rose lives in Oklahoma City and considers herself a cheerleader for the great state of Oklahoma. She’s a big Thunder fan, Twitter junkie, OKC ZooFriends member and loves to support local arts and events. She blogs at OkRoseRock.