Who’s the Fool? – Profound Discoveries or Elaborate Pranks

Tue, 04/09/2013 - 3:07pm
Chris Fox, Managing Editor

We all know the old adage that surrounds the first day of April. We’ve all taken part in or fallen victim to an April Fools prank at some point. In the contemporary realm, April Fools has taken on an entirely different persona.

April 1 used to be a day where the bully in school could yell out the hallmark and get away with tripping you in the hallway (kind of), or when you tied a rubber band around the faucet to soak the next poor soul trying to get a drink. In a time of viral marketing, April Fools Day has been rebranded to represent the comical creativity of major corporations and colleges.

No big deal. If anything, it’s another opportunity to get cheeky, Super Bowl-esque commercials. Take Virgin’s clear-bottom plane announcement. I found it entertaining – even more so when a Chinese news group reported on it as real news. What happens when legitimate campaigns and advertisements get taken as jokes? There is a narrowing connection between the outlandish and the feasible, and that can draw skepticism to the validity of actual discoveries.

Google announced a new search platform last Monday, called Google Nose. As the video starts, the concept seems very interesting and even feasible, but I could slowly feel my eyebrow raise as the media reached its midpoint. The “Google Nose Beta Smell Button” seemed almost too corny and obscure for me, although my knowledge about photons intersecting with infra sound waves is somewhat narrow. For the sake of a childish hope for Smell-o-Vision, I kept watching, grasping at straws, thinking, hoping that maybe it was real. It was the guy smelling his monitor and giving a triumphant fist pump at about 1:29 that completely shattered the already crumbling illusion.

Google even went so far as to create a beta page where you can click and attempt to smell everything from fear to wet dog. It’s only when you click for assistance from the help desk that Google admits to the prank (in the fourth bullet point). Clever.

The truly interesting thing about this is that your computer emitting smells or your tablet identifying odors doesn’t seem that far out of the realm of possibility. When Michigan Engineering released a video toting the possibility that they had accidentally discovered teleportation, I really didn’t know what to think. The YouTube commentary seemed somewhat divided, though skeptical. The seriousness of the video felt legitimate, but their vague explanation about the process smelled fishy. But, then again, it’s YouTube, and not everything is or can be terribly technical when broadcasting to an expansive audience. After several more views, and a calming of my childish excitement, it is clear that I had been the April Fool. What’s exciting is the fact that the idea of teleportation remains science fiction, but seems more feasible each and every day. Hard to say if we will ever have the ability to teleport, but pranks like this seem to inspire the imagination.

Herein lies the benefit of technological April Fools jokes. They make the world, engineers, and laymen alike, analyze the possible outcomes and determine if it is a reality. Videos like the Google Nose and Teleportation segments drive everybody to put on a deductive thinking cap. Trying to disprove videos like these to our inner five-year-old not only reinvigorates our passion for discovery, but it surely gives potential insight to creatively solve. Even though jokes like these leave me slightly disappointed, they serve to inspire new ideas and have potential to help drive the next big innovation.

What are your thoughts on technological April Fools jokes? Are they a waste of time or a provocateur for innovation? Comment below or email


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