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AOL was a series of semi-private suites; Gmail is an open loft, wallpapered with distractions. Hard to picture anything less erotic than the inbox, that cluttered room whose door can never be locked.Imagine having sex and someone from the alumni association bursts in to ask for a donation.Gmail saves the histories of our chats, should we ever care to look.It turns out we use the internet to talk about what other people are talking about on the internet: “Oh god please look at what she just tweeted.” “Hang on I’ll find the link.” And then there are the tactical chats—“I guess I am not that in the mood for Thai food? Mixed in with the rest, and preserved for all eternity, they assemble further evidence of our gross mortal wastefulness.Gmail made the choices for us, pulling names from our email contacts.It was like standing outside the door of a party that all your friends had been invited to. Gmail began “in beta” and by invitation only in 2004 and remained technically in beta for the next five years; it continued to feel exclusive long after everyone was using it.For David Hume, increased conversation between men and women corresponded to “an increase of humanity, from the very habit of conversing together.” But Hume didn’t know about Gchat, which offers us so many opportunities for conversation that conversation becomes impossible.
Before the introduction of the Buddy List—in 1996, dubbed the “stalker feature” by AOL employees—you could come and go without any of them noticing.
Madame de Rambouillet talked in bed, stretched out on a mattress, draped in furs, while her visitors remained standing.
Blue velvet lined the walls of the room, which became known as “the French Parnassus”: a model for the 17th- and 18th-century salons, where aristocratic women led male in polite and lively discussion. But conversation, in the 17th century, was a novel ideal of speech: not utilitarian instructions or religious catechism, but an exchange of ideas, a free play of wit.
Thus the hostesses of the Enlightenment received visitors in a new kind of furniture.
In 1667, the Gobelins tapestry-weaving workshop became Louis XIV’s official furniture supplier.
Eventually, AOL’s dominance waned as people signed up for free web-based email and downloaded desktop-based chat clients, like AOL’s own Instant Messenger (1997).