April Fools' Day is dead: If everyone's fooling, nobody's a fool
In order for April Fools' Day to work, a lot of people have to forget it's April Fools' Day -- at least for the first few hours. But nowadays, you can forget forgetting. The moment you fire up a Web browser in the morning, you're barraged by a dozen silly pranks from every node; it's like a roomful of comedians all competing for a laugh. Google loves its guffaws: If it's not the purported invention of the first artificial intelligence, it's that same AI helping you automatically answer e-mails from boring people or YouTube scandalously turning all your videos upside down.
(We had to chuckle at the endangered Encarta's example of an April Fools' Day stunt: "Someone may give a friend the telephone number of the zoo, telling her to return a call from 'Mr. Fox.' ")
Twitter is awash with reports that President Obama has been sending out messages advising people that they appear to be members of his extended family. If any fingers are to be pointed, one might want to start with Facebook's "We're Related" application, the source of the messages.
Said one cheery Tweeter to a family member, "We're related to Barack Obama. So I guess I'm going to college after all."
The makers of the Opera browser also announced the launch of "Opera Face Gestures," a new technology that allows users to surf the Web using only the neck, jaw and face muscles. Here's the video:
The Pirate Bay, notorious stronghold of copyright violators, made fake headlines by announcing it had sold itself to Warner Bros. (the record label, no great friend of the online music space, is actually Warner Music, one tip-off that the outlaw Swedes are trying to pull some wool).
Even Tribune Co., the Chapter 11-protected owner of the Los Angeles Times, decided to whistle through its own ever-expanding graveyard by issuing a press release about the new Accelerator product, an "Alternative info-super highway," which "May Render Internet Obsolete By 2010." Indeed, sirs, indeed!
Along the same careful-what-you-wish-for lines, the Guardian declared it would jettison 188 years of reliance on the printing press in favor of an all-Twitter operation.
The surfeit of trickery has obliterated the day's crucial element of surprise and turned April Fools' into a many-way game of one-upmanship. There are so many Web pranks today that you need a whole website just to keep track of them all. All the distractions have drowned out the real news: hardly anyone has noticed as reports of damage from the Conficker virus roll in, including an attack on a U.S. nuclear weapons installation. Who's laughing now?
-- David Sarno