With a Few Clicks, You, Too, Can Start to Change Your Life

With a Few Clicks, You, Too, Can Start to Change Your Life

By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN


AOL.com Star Jones Reynolds offers relationship tips on "AOL Coaches."

Television has historically defined itself against work. The sedentary
television rules the living room in view of a fat sofa — those great
monuments of domestic leisure. The evening news marks the end of the
workday; prime time exists as an alternative to plays and movies; and those
lucky enough to be sick or jobless get to watch talk shows and soaps.

Watching television is so much the opposite of work, in fact, that it’s
hardly even a purposeful act: If you spend Saturday and Sunday watching
television, you can credibly say you spent the weekend doing nothing at all.

But now we find ourselves in the midst of the long-anticipated
convergence of Internet and television, and a weird thing is happening:
people are watching television during the workday, in offices, at their
computers, sitting up straight in unupholstered desk chairs. They’re
watching fake ads or clips from "Saturday Night Live" that show up in e-mail
in-boxes. And they’re watching with their fingers on keyboards, toggling
between "Lost" or lusty Colin Farrell and Excel spreadsheets.

No wonder, then, that the latest programmers — people trying to create
sustainable, popular, commercial Internet television — are incorporating
workday attitudes of diligence, can-doism, detail-orientation and, above
all, procrastination into new shows. AOL’s self-improvement series, "AOL
Coaches," is available only at

aol.com/coaches
, and if you want to tune in at the office, you might
just get away with it. The series is broken into installments that aren’t
even called episodes: they’re "workshops," and each one of them includes
plenty of opportunities to study, memorize, check off boxes and even take
little tests. It has the look and feel of real work, and all the virtuous
fun of finally doing your expenses.

The current headliner in the "AOL Coaches" series is Star Jones Reynolds,
a lawyer and co-host of "The View" on ABC. Like many of the self-styled life
coaches on the site, Ms. Jones Reynolds has a book to promote: something
called "Shine," about falling in love. ("Shine" is packaged for sale on
Amazon with a book about

Laci Peterson’s
murder.) Having married, Ms. Jones Reynolds now
qualifies as an expert on life’s sweetest reward, and here she is on the
screen, in what looks like an animated headshot, jabbering solemnly under
stalactites and chandeliers of AOL graphics and toolbars. She’s cited as a
"love coach," though her wisdom is directed entirely at women looking for
romance, and her workshop is called "Is He the One?"

Ms. Jones Reynolds’s insight into love is almost exhaustingly ordinary;
the script is so bland that it’s hard even to tell which of her proud
premarital disciplines — weight loss? chastity? — she’s trying to hawk. I
did learn that you should get acquainted with someone before having sex with
him. Rarely does her advice rise to the level of women’s-magazine truisms.
(She encourages viewers to look for men who love their mothers and are
supportive.) Only when she champions "a like-minded guy with whom you can be
equally yoked" does the language achieve a little Biblical snap, and the bad
men who should be avoided — mother-haters who refuse prenups — seem to be,
by implication, unchristian.

The workshop offers a short quiz on love, which I took. It was harsh. It
was called "Are there any deal-breakers?" and — laboriously clicking on
answers that turned orange when I chose them — I got half the questions
wrong. I didn’t realize that if a man has no credit card, you have to "run,"
and I didn’t know that you also have to run if you have a single doubt about
whether a guy is the one. Yikes. I did know that you can’t change a man —
that mighty platitude I learned from Mademoiselle when I was 7 — but I was
surprised to discover that new research apparently shows you can "soften"
him somehow.

Ads for AOL radio ("Don’t Surf in Silence") periodically interrupted Ms.
Jones Reynolds’s inquiry into his being the one. A pushy medley that
combined Nirvana and

Madonna
— not kidding — didn’t harmonize well with the svelte attorney’s
soothing smooth-jazz D.J. voice.

Trudging through her workshop was generally an unpleasant experience. The
talking, animated head-and-shoulders image of her was so stylized — stiff
hair, poreless skin, out-of-synch sound — that it seemed at times like a
cartoon. If it was enhanced somehow, as it appeared to be, it might as well
have been an animated cartoon and not film at all; in the future, I don’t
see why some of these coaches should even bother to film their stand-ups.
Someone could make these creatures in a lab.

But Ms. Jones Reynolds turned out to be the exception on the "AOL
Coaches" program. Many of the other coaches — coaches rather than just
celebrities by trade — were superb: original, specific, energetic, even
inspiring. As the bruiser success sergeants, for example, including Stephen
Covey and Tom Peters, strutted manfully around my screen, I was ready to
become the C.E.O. of Me, develop Brand Me, and get off the Road of
Mediocrity.

John Gottman, the relationship clairvoyant who says he can predict who’s
getting divorced after watching couples for three minutes, was a revelation.
Don’t do harsh set-ups, he instructed, and that coded command came as big
news. Ninety-six percent of conversations end the way they start, it seems;
even if you get nice in the middle, a nasty start-up means you’ll close in
fury. Riveting. Not handsome or histrionic enough for regular television,
Mr. Gottman has a muted style and bookish manner that’s ideal for this form.
With these figures surrounded by so much text — often talking points come up
screen right — they come to seem like moving book illustrations. More than
once a coach seemed like a hallucination, as if the portrait of a syndicated
columnist had come to life in a newspaper and begun to speak from the page.

"AOL Coaches" lets you print out parts of the presentations of its
coaches. It’s less like television entertainment, and more like a
teleconference; the papers are take-aways. Having watched every coach on the
site, and some more than once — they were addictive somehow — I printed out
piles of good advice and packed it into a binder for further study.

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