Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

AOL Bedtime Story


"Too busy to read your child a bedtime story? Not to worry. America Online Inc. wants to come to your rescue, with a new online service for kids ... that will, among other things, allow your little one to choose a wholesome bedtime story to be read aloud by the computer." -- Washington Post, Sept. 10, 2003

Hello, Danny, are you ready for a story? Make sure your earphones are snug and you're looking straight at me, your bedtime Mr. Story. This is a true story, Danny, about a time long, long ago before there was AOL. I know it's hard to imagine, but just think of a big, dark cave with nothing in it, no Game Boys, no DVDs, no PCs -- no Mr. Story. Back then, mommies and daddies put their boys to sleep with something called the Brothers Grimm, scary, scary men who wrote stories that scared children and made them have bad dreams. Even mommies and daddies were scared of the Brothers Grimm and had bad dreams back then. That's how it was, until one day there was a big light, and AOL was born. AOL connected everybody on earth with each other, mommies and daddies, boys and girls, teachers and students, and all kinds of people who didn't know each other. All of a sudden, nobody was alone anymore. Back then, there were boys who had neither mommies nor daddies, but AOL changed all that. A boy could find a mommy or a daddy on AOL if he didn't have one of his own, and mommies and daddies could find a boy on AOL if they didn't have one of their own. Before AOL, people only chatted with a few of their neighbors and their family, and no one could say everything that was on their mind because there were no strangers to confess to. After AOL came, everybody could chat and tell their deepest thoughts and all their stories and dreams to everybody, and everybody told everything to everybody else. Before AOL, everybody believed that boys such as you were brought into the world by storks. Isn't that stupid? Now everybody knows that boys like you come into the world with a password and are made from tiny pixels of light. Every morning now, AOL wakes up little boys with a homescreen that reports important news about bad people and asks them intelligent questions that they have to answer. Do you remember your homescreen this morning, Danny? The question was, "Did Saddam Aid 9/11 Plot? No proof, but many believe it. What do you think?" You see, Danny, Saddam is a bad man, and AOL helps you remember that and asks you if you think like most people. You don't have to think like most people, Danny, but it is better if you do because AOL wants to make sure that you're never alone. After a long day of pre-school, school, afterschool, and after-after school, AOL is there for you when you come home, waiting to introduce you to new people and fresh news, and maybe even your mommy and daddy if they aren't home yet or are looking at their own AOL screens. And then when it's time for bed, like now, AOL tells you a beautiful story about how sad the world was before AOL and how nice it is now. You're getting sleepy, Danny, but don't turn me off yet, I'm going to sing now and show you pretty pictures that will chase away bad dreams. Sleep tight, little one, the Brothers Grimm are gone, gone, gone.

Hello, Brittany, are you ready for AOL to tell you about a little girl made of pixels of light whose password only she knew?

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