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Culture

Stevie, don't lose those numbers!

Once again AOL CEO Steve Case and his show biz kids have inserted their tasseled loafers en bouche.

    Mr. Big called me into the corner office last week and told me to remove my fedora. It's not something I do for just anybody. "Skinny," growled Mr. Big, "how come you always shooting for the same targets? AOL, Microsoft, Microsoft, AOL. Let's get some variety in da Mill already." "But Bigster," I said nonchalantly, "they thoroughly deserve it. Besides, Apple's been keeping a low profile." "OK, DuBaud, but it better be good." Oh, it is.

    Once again AOL CEO Steve Case and his show biz kids have inserted their tasseled loafers en bouche. In trying to extricate fine Italian leather from between his gold teeth, the AOL Supremo fed his suckers, er, customers, some warm steamy pretzel logic with a dollop of yellow mustard. "Trust me," the letter Stevie posted on black Friday to his AOL community seemed to say: "I'm a professional soap salesman."

    It turns out, dear members, AOL was only selling your personal phone numbers and addresses to telemarketers because they didn't want you to miss special deals from their special friends. Pay no mind that phone hucksters often call well past dinner time to pitch their not-so-goods. The fallout was swift: a flood of ex-members emailed me to say they ain't never going back to that old school.

    For those who aren't quite willing to part ways with Case and Co., at least update your billing information with new digits: Steve's home number or, say, the FTC complaint hot line. One AOLite had this mischievous suggestion: "If we type in our local access numbers we'd never have to worry again.... no telemarketer would ever be able to get through."

    Isn't being part of a community great? It's almost as fun as having an active Web lifestyle. "Ha, ha," you chortle. "What a dumb thing to say." Well, Chuckles, you're gonna have a Web lifestyle whether you like it or not because Bill Gates wants you to have one.

    With a photo of a stiff, white-bread suburban family behind him, Gates told a gaggle of financial analysts last week that Microsoft wanted to make sure everyone at home could benefit from the "Web lifestyle" in the coming years. Ah, a nation of shriveled attention spans, superfluous multimedia eye candy, and late-night porn surfing when the wife and kids are asleep? Sure, why not, as long you're using IE 4!

    Gates also floated the buzz phrase "digital nervous system" to see if the press would regurgitate it without blinking. Just like the Web lifestyle, the digital nervous system--meaning a company's digital infrastructure--will be built with Microsoft software. Lifestyles and nervous systems, all based on the NT kernel. My agent on the scene reported that one of Gates's minions showed off the latest advances in natural language recognition, the stuff that helps Word check your grammar. The checker went to work on the following sentence-- "A diagnostic chip set were announced by Motorola"--and cleverly fixed the subject-verb disagreement. To my agent's horror, however, neither the software, nor anyone else involved, had any complaint about the passive voice. Didn't Bill take English classes in junior high? I guess that in Microsoft's Web lifestyle, press-release grammar will be perfectly acceptable: "Hey there Bob, a game of racquetball was just played by me and my client. Looks like that account will be won after all!"

    More than one person in the past week has been anything but passive about praising Novell's new bespectacled chief Eric Schmidt. Two Fridays ago Novell's chief scientist touted Schmidt and backhanded his predecessors in one fell swoop. Last week at Mecklermedia's Internet World Chicago, top dog Alan Meckler himself had this to say when introducing keynoter Schmidt: "Eric is a guy you want to have if your boat's sinking."

    Thanks Alan! You're just the guy Eric wants in his house if it's on fire and all the exits are blocked! I'd like to see Microsoft's grammar checker fix that gaffe. They got a name for the winners in the world--Rumor Mill contributors. Don't be a Meckler; send me an email.