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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deal Offers Chance to Exploit Best of Both Worlds




By taking over Time Warner, is America Online rescuing one of our culture's most familiar dinosaurs?


On the record, the $183 billion dino-deal is being billed as a friendly merger, but in AOL's corporate bastion of the New Economy, some folks are saying that AOL has saved Time Warner's assets. The result, they aver, will be nothing less than a planetary shift. Roll over Henry Luce, tell Sam Warner the news. We in our living rooms will no longer be couch potatoes but mouse potatoes.


At the very least, it's a great day for American cultural imperialism, says Bruce Sterling, futurist and author of "Islands in the Net."


"There's never been more demand for it. America's never been more culturally dominant," he said. If AOL can figure out a way for CNN's billion potential viewers worldwide to link up with one another, "you've got a hot property there if they have a modicum of sanity." Throw in Hollywood's movies and People magazine, and resistance is futile.


Well, maybe.


For you and me and the screens that will soon sprout on our dashboards and wristwatches and eyeglasses, it all depends on the way things tilt. If Time Warner had taken over AOL, it would have been interpreted as the AOLiens cashing in their bloated stock options to go fishing. But at the merger announcement it was Steve Case, chairman and chief executive officer of AOL, who was wearing the big fat yellow power tie, that Freudian billy club. It was an amazing moment for somebody who 17 years ago was doing new pizza development for Pizza Hut.


In that lies the hope that this deal ushers in something new and perhaps better. After all, the promise of the Internet is that cheap, empowering technologies will let a thousand Spielbergs bloom. The Internet pipe goes two ways. Dead, we hope, will be the notion that a few hoity-toity hotshots determine everything you see and hear and read.


Hey, it's a good dream.


The alternative is that the newly created conglomerate gives in to inertia and meetings and suits. (In a wonderful display of cultural panic and corporate pandering, Time Warner chairman and chief executive Gerald Levin showed up at the announcement in a sport coat and open-neck shirt - just one of those groovy new media kids, our Jerry.)


If AOL becomes just another traditional, arbiter-of-taste, top-down media empire like Time Warner, what we're facing is a stunning number of ways to be inundated with Martha Stewart - on your computer, your television, your refrigerator screen.


"If AOL does not stand alone, Time Warner will try to screw it up," e-mailed Rob Fried, a producer of Hollywood movies including "Godzilla" who just launched an entertainment site called whatshotnow.com.


"Time Warner is old-school media, meaning they try to rule the world with exclusive contracts. The Internet is inherently about choice. If Time Warner tries to impose their content on AOL, AOL will begin to fail."


Whichever web emerges, the new AOL "is going to dramatically change the landscape of many businesses. There will finally be a studio who understands the mentality of the Internet user and their demand for expressing their views," Fried said. "Hollywood traditionally ignores the consumer. This is precisely why Hollywood has failed up until now on the Internet. I have no doubt that there are executives at other studios in a panic state that Time Warner made such a deal before them."


But wait! Why are we telling you what this all means to our culture as if we were part of an aging 20th-century-style, top-down, one-to-many mega-media corporation? For the real voice of the people, we take you now to the AOL News, Sports and Finance chat room Monday evening. Topic One was the merger. There you'd find a lot of LOL (laughing out loud) and a certain amount of cynicism:


ThammR: "Damn. ... more than I make in a whole year !!!!


MT CAL ONE*: but, here I sit, running four cemeteries for a living LOL


Jeh4797: just a year?


ThammR: Had rough year


WeeksL: What does the AOL-Time Warner news mean to users of the Internet?


Fara218493: lol


Jeh4797: lol


ThammR: Weeks ... pay more get less !!! what else?