April Fool's: Why The Tech World Needs Its Annual Carnival

Last year, when YouTube decided to Rickroll all its users – i.e. send all video links to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna’ Give You Up” – there was a sense that April Fool’s pranks in the tech world had reached their peak. How could anyone top the ultimate self-referential prank that took a universal web joke and ‘made it official’?

But if this morning is any indication, that’s far from the case. In fact, it seems that the blogosphere is positively lit-up with hundreds and thousands of stories claiming to be true, but are most definitely not. Google changing their name to Topeka? YouTube introducing ‘TEXTp’? Amazon discounting the iPad? Yeah – April Fool’s Day is alive and well.

Scanning my Twitter feed this morning, however, I got the distinct sense that people were tired of this. The general sense was: “April Fool’s? We’re doing this? Really? Fine *sigh*”. And on some level, it’s hard to blame people who feel this way. After all, the world of tech blogging plays by looser and faster rules than the media that came before it. Because you can go back and edit a story, many bloggers will throw up a story first and then, if necessary, amend or correct details later.

As a result, people have become used to thinking a story is true and then having to change what they believe once the truth comes out. April Fool’s seems to exacerbate that situation, becoming a day on which no-one is sure what to believe. In a sense, it’s not the fun or the joke that people object to; instead, it’s that April Fool’s highlights some of the things that are wrong with breakneck pace and occasionally shoddy reporting in the tech world. The uncertainty of the day is a metaphor for our changing relationship to news and information. “Everything is already so uncertain,” they say. “Just give us the straight facts”.

So it turns out there is some justification for the weariness when it comes to April Fool’s. Yet, there’s still a good reason for April Fool’s in the world of tech, and I think it’s as simple as this: the tech world takes itself too damn seriously.

Spend much time in the tech blogosphere and you’ll start to get accustomed to a kind of smug self-righteousness and an overly obsessive attention to detail. The slightest flaw in a product makes it ‘worthless’ and ‘an epic FAIL’. Decisions or mistakes by large corporations are taken personally, and people will often claim how ‘they’ll never again’ but a product from Apple or Sony or whoever.

Minor wars are waged over whether the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 is a better video games console – this over two products that are almost identical in function and game selection. Similarly, we breathless pore over every last bit of news of the newest, most-hyped product. My Google Reader feed was literally full of about 200 stories about the iPad. It’s a little insane.

In a lot of ways, that’s fine. Geeks and nerds will be geeks and nerds and they – okay fine, we -  will obsess over technology come hell or high water. At the same time it’s hard not to wonder whether all this energy and time might be spend on something else (but please, still read this blog!).

That’s why April Fool’s is actually necessary. Years ago, thinker Mikhail Bakhtin talked about the importance of the medieval carnival: it was a time when normal rules were upended; the low were high and the high were low and everything was turned on its head. It was a way of letting off steam, but also of reminding people what’s important.

In much the same way, April Fool’s is a time when, just for a little while, the tech world takes itself a little less seriously. After all, let’s face it: most of us use technology as much to distract ourselves as much as we do to work. Ask yourself: does it really matter that a new processor 10% faster has come out? Is it really important that you know what Google or Apple or Sony are up to right this minute? Probably not. Today is a day to remember that the technology we spend our lives immersed in may not be as important as we sometimes think it is.

So embrace April Fool’s. Sure, it may be a little frustrating. But it’s also a reminder: all this techy gadgetry sure is fun, but at the end of day, most of it is just toys we use top keep ourselves entertained.

So give yourself over to the joke and remember that, for most of the year, we take this stuff way too seriously.

Written by Navneet Alang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang
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