The McBournie Minute: How Google killed April Fools’ Day

It’s just about the end of the day, and that means you’ve nearly survived April Fools’ Day, which is easily the worst day to have an internet connection. Suddenly, everyone thinks it’s a good idea to announce something jaw dropping and seeing who believes them, and even companies are getting in on the action.

It wasn’t always like this. April Fools’ Day used to be a day of elaborate pranks to get a rise out of people. It was once known as a day to either seek a playful revenge on a rival or get the goat of a good friend. No one puts Lifesavers in their friends’ shower head anymore, no one leaves a pair of pants on top of some shoes in the office bathroom stall and counts the hours until the EMTs are called. Today we settle for Facebook pictures of someone’s cubicle filled with packing peanuts.

What the hell happened to April Fools’ Day?

There are a ton of theories on how the day came to be, and I don’t feel like discussing the merits of each one. I’m willing to wager that you don’t want to read all of that, either. So let’s just all agree that for at least five centuries, the whole of Western civilization decided it would be a good idea to play pranks on each other. Some people got really into it, some people didn’t. Through the centuries, there were probably a few pranksters who ended up drawn and quartered by victims who didn’t share their sense of whimsy.

Every now and then an outlandish story would be printed in a newspaper or magazine and some would have hearty laugh, while others complained that those drunkards in print media should spend more of their time investigating corruption and less time making stuff up. Then the internet came along, and few really made the leap to online pranks, until Google came along.

When Google, a growing, innovative corporation, figured out it could use the day to come up with some clever gags that showcased some of their best products, it spelled doom. Every year, there would be a slew of fake announcements from Google, and they were pretty entertaining. (Google debuted GMail on April 1, 2004, and people weren’t sure if it was a joke. It proved to be a long, elaborate setup for the gag once known as Google Wave, which came out in Fall 2009.

Then, like that stupid “Harlem Shake” trend of years later, companies saw something that seemed cool on the internet and decided to jump on the bandwagon. Now we’ve got all sorts of serious sites that pick today of all days to put up half-baked jokes they call fake products. They’re not all bad, but it’s not like the internet is short on people making snarky comments or willfully spreading misinformation the other 364 days a year. It’s just tiresome.

Then there are sites that offer extra features for today only. Google pioneered this, too. In fact, if you go to Google Maps today, you can go into Treasure Map mode. It’s cool, but it’s not a prank, it’s an Easter egg, and Easter was yesterday.

When was the last time you saw a whoopie cushion? Those pretty much embodied the pinnacle of pre-internet April Fools’ Day, and then they disappeared, probably because they got pretty annoying. But they’ve been gone for so long now they could be cool again if we brought them back.

The last time I used one was when I was on vacation as a kid. My cousin, my sister and I picked some up from one of those cheap souvenir shops you find in every beach town. Kids love fart jokes, so we probably could have gone all day playing with those things, but what made it memorable was my Irish Catholic grandmother.

She had a morbid outlook that only the Irish have. For example, after we opened our presents on Christmas Day, every year she would say, “A lot of work for one day.” And then a few minutes later, “Well, this will be my last Christmas.” She eventually got it right.

But this was summer vacation, and we kids were on a week long excitement binge, caused by drinking tons of soda and begging to go to the beach. My grandmother came into the living room where we had been playing, and one of us managed to get a whoopie cushion beneath her as she sat on the couch.

She roared with laughter. So kept inflating our cushions and squishing them with our hands. We had never seen her laugh so hard, and never did again. I think if anything, this proves that farts are universal. Let’s try harder next year.