Tradition fulfilled its role, but the world is different. I changed my mind about April Fools’ Day

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Is it April Fools again? Today, for the first time in 20 years, it happened to me that the first of April caught me unprepared. I usually arrive feast of jokers had been watching since midnight. I frantically looked up what April Fools’ Day was created by who, and also eagerly read the reactions to the parody articles that I published. But April Fool’s Day is one of those traditions that I’ve changed my mind about 180 degrees.

During my 15-year tenure at Technet.cz magazine, I didn’t miss a single April Fool’s Day. Starting with this one from 2008: Google bought the internet, inappropriate content disappears from the web. I wrote it in a fairly dry language, I only threw in a few jokes. Still, I didn’t understand how even professional webmasters could catch on to it back then.

Photo: Archive.org/Technet.cz

After all, I also gave a link to Cimrman, it must have happened to everyone…

The next day (i.e. already outside april fools window) I heard on the radio how an editor read this message of mine completely unironically. It should have scared me, but at the time it made me even more convinced that it is important to write April Fools’ Day. After all, this will make people aware of their gullibility. As Mark Twain said, “April Fool’s Day is the day that reminds us of who we are for the rest of the year.”

I consider the redrawing of the sundial for summer time to be my most original April Fool’s article. To this day, I think I managed to hit that fleeting combination that makes a “good April Fool’s day”: initially believable, topical and using real observed absurdities.

Photo: Archive.org/Technet.cz

Photomontages used to be less frequent, but today they probably won’t surprise anyone.

Or the simple idea of ​​”beta carotene…why take beta carotene, I want the full version” that I remade into this April Fool’s trick.

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Photo: Archive.org/Technet.cz

Yes, you guessed it right, the joke was that the “premium carotene” was simply chopped carrots.

I won with this April fool. I even created the website CarotenePremium (and at that time it was not possible to generate English texts in a few seconds).

Why did I change my mind?

In 2019, when I showed these April Fools’ cards to students at Charles University during a lecture, they laughed. And it was only 60 percent out of decency, I already know that.

However, during the ensuing debate, I was asked, “Aren’t you afraid that you’re undermining your credibility?” That’s when I responded with something “wise.” But the truth was that the question hadn’t occurred to me until then. Why?

I grew up on April Fools’ Day. Throughout the 20th century, April Fool’s Day performed an important function. He reminded readers once a year not to believe everything they read. A famous BBC joke from 1957, when this serious television showed people a report from the “spaghetti harvest”, is famous.

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Photo: BBC

“Some viewers did not see the funny side of the matter and criticized the BBC for airing this post in a program that is supposed to be serious and factual,” the BBC recalls on its website. “However, others were so impressed that they wanted to find out where they could buy their own spaghetti bush.”

Do you know the principle of Chesterton’s fence? It is a simple principle of common sense conservatism. “Don’t remove the fence until you understand why it was built.” It’s to prevent the removal of outdated traditions from doing unexpected damage.

A fence doesn’t just happen. It takes work to plan and build it. It can be expected that he fulfilled his function. Before demolishing it, we should know the function and then assess whether the need has passed. Or maybe we can fulfill it better today. In other words: Before defining a tradition, it is necessary to understand why it actually came into being and what role it played.

April Fool’s Day (April Fool’s Day in English) basically fulfilled an educational function. The tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, but in the journalistic context it became established during the 20th century. He allowed people to experience – in a safe and controlled environment – the moment when they stumble upon something and then correct their initial impression.

In my opinion, such “lessons” are still appropriate today. It is useful to show that not everything can be trusted. I just try to do it differently. For example, using an interactive test:

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But the overall situation has changed. Journalists no longer have the public trust they once had. We are largely to blame for this, but technological change also plays a role. Literally anyone can now create and publish content.

“Journalists are no longer the only ones who have the opportunity to spread information to a large audience. But they are the only ones who can devote an enormous amount of energy to careful monitoring, systematic verification and thoughtfully engaging presentation of information in the long term,” I wrote in my first article as editor of Seznam Zpráv. It just came out on April Fools’ Day, but I meant it.

“In a situation where trust in the media is falling, polarization is rising and nonsense is being spread all year round, April Fool’s Day is getting a little rough,” I realized. “At worst, an April Fool’s Day article will be spread outside of its original context and may cause damage and further reduce the credibility of journalists.”

I believe that after 14 years of publishing April Fool’s articles, I understand what the April Fool’s tradition is for. So I probably don’t change my view of April Fools’ Day out of laziness or because I don’t enjoy making up funny things. I stopped writing April articles precisely because I am a fan of them. I understand why they were needed.

I’m not writing this to tell you what to think about April Fools’ Day articles. I wanted to show in detail how I changed my mind. I believe that changing another person’s opinion is one of the hardest things in the world, and changing your own opinion is even harder. At the same time, it is an ability that will come in handy at any time.

And due to the rapid onset of new technologies, the ability to meaningfully assess the existing order will really come in handy. And change your opinions based on current data. It will become easier and easier to create a fable. But vouching in your own name for the fact that something is true will not be fun.

Generative artificial intelligence on the rise

Since November 2022, when OpenAI introduced the ChatGPT tool, people around the world have been experimenting with how generative artificial intelligence can help them.

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What new tools can or can’t do is debated from many perspectives. Is it true intelligence and creativity? The results are not only stunning, but also bizarre.

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There have also been a plethora of scams and abuses of generative artificial intelligence. For many people, it is also understandably important how these tools will affect the labor market.

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The article is in Czech

Tags: Tradition fulfilled role world changed mind April Fools Day

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