(5 of 6)
A couple of days after the merger, Levin flew down to AOL's offices on one of the Time Warner jets for a meeting and a Case-led tour of the firm's network operations center. As Case walked Levin through the NORAD-like setup, he couldn't resist a dig. "How many simultaneous users did we have last night?" he shouted to one techie. "One point five million," came the answer. Case: "Hey, that beats CNN." Wink. Case explained to Levin how--and why--AOL's networks are built to be faster than regular Internet service providers. "How do you do that?" Levin asked. "Caching and peering," a techie answered. "What's that?" Levin asked about peering. Case explained how the service has direct ties into Net backbones to speed what AOL users see. Levin: "No one else is doing that? Not AT&T?" No, said Case.
On this tour, you could also see a company in the making. Case teaching Levin about instant messaging: the firm delivers 100 million e-mail messages a day--but more than a billion instant messages. Case argues that that's evidence of a whole new medium. Levin listens and suggests that it might be harnessed to support Time Warner products. An AOL techie points out that they can tell when popular programs come on TV by watching the network traffic fall as users log off. "You could use this to tell when it was time to kill a show," the techie suggests. "We can see when Friends' ratings are falling," he adds, referring to a Warner Bros.-produced show. "Not Friends," Levin corrects as Case listens in. "ER, maybe."
And as Levin and Case walked around, it was clear each man had his own sense of cyber-age manners. Upon arriving at a door, Case would charge through first. Levin would politely hold the door, not only for the person after him, but for everyone else in the party. It wasn't a gesture of submission. No one would have seen him and said, "Oh, man, Jerry was holding the door for people!" Instead it was the kind of thing Levin seemed to feel would be expected of a Time Warner executive. In Case's world, the polite thing to do is get through the door and out of the way. In Levin's, it's to hold it for others. But the two men do seem to have the same basic instinct: Get through the door!
Levin traces at least part of his get-there-now heritage to an old boss, David Lilienthal, one of the prototypical "great men" of the 20th century. A tall, owlish Midwesterner, Lilienthal rose to become an adviser to Presidents from Roosevelt through Carter, chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and then head of the Atomic Energy Commission after World War II. In 1955 he started a small firm called Development and Resources Corp. to bring power, water and communications to the developing world. In 1967, bored after just four years as a lawyer, 28-year-old Levin joined DRC and became Lilienthal's protege. In 1971, Levin spent a year in Iran working for DRC, helping bring water to the Shah's deserts. (Distributing water, he would later observe, wasn't too different from distributing media.)