Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pranks for the memories

Yesterday in this space, I bade farewell to the blogging world. Seventeen minutes later, someone posted a comment outing my goodbye as an April Fool's Day hoax.

For the record, whether my sayonara post was in fact a mere April Fool's Day prank, or was a sincere goodbye announcement that I reconsidered after receiving hundreds of impassioned pleas for reconsideration, I will leave for you to decide. But for the purposes of today's post, let's call it a prank.

I find it remarkable that this blog's collected readership, which some have referred to as "the Beyond," reacts so quickly to a new post. That's both flattering and somewhat weird. (Whether or not the Beyond posts commentary, it does come around.)

In truth, the speedy reaction time is less a function of the size of the readership, or the gradual increase in that size, than of the increasingly common use of tools like news readers, iGoogle, RSS feeds and the like to keep up with websites of choice.

Still, it's amazing how effectively this particular thought-delivery system operates. Picking up a phone and sending an email remain far from redundant means of expressing oneself, but they're no longer completely necessary either.

I'm also a little disappointed that the prank was so easily unwound; was it that implausible? I take solace in the fact that the guy who saw through it, the Carl Bernstein of spring solstice silliness, is one of the smartest people I have ever met. In fact, my valedictory was invalidated by a valedictorian.

On the April Fool's Day front, after a long worldwide history of goofing around, many continue to carry on the tradition. Countless April 1 stunts took place yesterday in workplaces, schools and elsewhere, but because many weren't widely reported, they're mostly a word-of-mouth phenomenon. Some pranks found a wider audience due to their media or online contexts.

Howard Stern, for example, has pulled off some memorable hoaxes such as the fake cancellation of his radio show, announced live throughout the "debut" of Stern's happy-talk lite-FM "replacements" (actually actors in on the gag). Coming at the height of Stern's battles with the FCC and the Clear Channel media conglomerate, it was plausible enough to convince many listeners who didn't realize it was the first of April.

This year's version involved Stern's personal stylist, right-hand-man and hanger-on, Ralph Cirella, whose prickly personality, opinionated phone calls into the show, seat on Howard's private plane and lack of a discernible job make him a controversial figure on the Stern scene. He's the one they love to hate.

Howard announced that his staff had installed an ISDN line and live microphone in Cirella's home so that Ralph could chime into the show whenever he wanted, without even getting out of bed. The revelation prompted widespread outrage among callers and crew alike; a few cast members were heard to grumble that they wouldn't mind having that arrangement for themselves.

Ralph's frequent interjections, sounding as clear as if he were in the studio, represented many listeners' worst nightmare. After a few hours, though, Stern himself got so sick of Cirella's nonstop participation that he made the big reveal, announcing that the whole arrangement was a prank. Cirella was in fact speaking from the next room, where he had been secreted.

Among big American companies, Google has recently led the way in 4/1 frivolity. This year, for example, they came up with an ambitious effort, albeit one preposterous enough to be seen through by anyone with a calendar. If you're not using their Gmail email service (and why not, exactly?), you may have missed that crew's creative prank. Google's Blogger software team also got into the act with a cute trifle.

In past years, Google has cranked out some quality pranks; here a good summary. Note how the sheer volume of their hoaxery seems to be geometrically increasing. Perhaps this reflects the company's growth, or Wikipedia's tendency to overemphasize the recent, but if the list is in fact evidence of pranking run amok, then the stockholder in me wonders whether the Googlers are getting so into April Fool's Day that they're not even doing actual work anymore. Has 20 percent time become 100?

April Fool's was fun, as it is every year. But now it's April 2nd, and here you are reading my ridiculous blog. Perhaps the joke is on you.


Anonymous said...

Ben, you're looking at my analysis of your prank the wrong way. Your post was not so "implausible" in and of itself. The implausible thing was the idea that April 1st could pass without the appearance of an April Fool's post on your blog. I was waiting for it to show up, wondering "What's Ben going to post today?".

Actually I think it was kind of funny, but believe it or not the "this blog is finished" seems to be the general theme for 2008 April Fools. I read a Japan-related blog which a message from a deputy. It stated that the blog owner overstayed his visa and was deported to China (effectively ending the blog). I also subscribe to a technical mailing list for a large open source software package that's been around for over ten years, and the weekly newsletter announced "the project has ended. Thanks for everybody's contributions over the years".

This is in contrast to lots of phone calls that continued throughout the day in the investment industry:

HEDGE FUND: We're sorry, but we lost all your money.
INVESTOR: Ha ha ha.
HEDGE FUND: No, really. We lost all your money.

Ben said...

I appreciate but don't deserve the compliment that it was implausible that April 1 might pass without my pranking the blog audience.

In fact, I had nothing planned in advance; it was the Stern show's gag that reminded me that it was April Fool's Day.

Once on notice, I quickly posted the farewell message, figuring the earlier in the day I did it, the greater the chance I could fool people before the unmasking of some other hoax put them on the defensive.

Wait. What I meant was, it was actually a real farewell, but so many people tearfully protested my resignation that I grudgingly agreed to continue with the blog. Yeah. That was it.

Anonymous said...

We're so glad it was a hoax!

—One of the Beyond