When I think of the communication breakdown that we’re experiencing in our culture, my first instinct is to blame AOL. Yes, AOL, which for many of us was the first way we experienced the Internet. Or, more specifically, I blame Elwood Edwards, whose voice you would hear every time you logged onto AOL and discovered that “You’ve Got Mail.” Was there any sweeter sound? It was so optimistic. A lilting tone with an upward lift at the end. A single spondaic stress with an iamb at the end. It was like the dinging sound of a slot machine when you win. Vegas casinos have long known that people will associate that ringing with winning in a Pavlovian sense, and will keep inserting money not just until they win, but until they hear the reassuring “ding.” The same was true for AOL. We would log on multiple times, waiting as the page slowly filled in over our dial-up connections, until the end when Mr. Edwards would make his proud proclamation. Or not, at which point we’d feel dejected. Like we had failed, somehow.
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