The Onion's Take on Tech

It's a question everyone asks editors at The Onion: Where do you get your ideas for stories?

But what we wanted to know more specifically was: Where do you get your ideas for technology stories?

Peter Koechley, managing editor at the parody newspaper, says "We don't have anything that amazing to say. ... We just report the news like anybody else."

Truth be told, The Onion doesn't do reporting like anybody else.

For example, the paper published in this week's edition that "NASA Announces Plan To Bring Wi-Fi To Its Headquarters By 2017." The satirical story goes on to explain the agency's dependency on a single dial-up modem and its US$655 million plan to fix its Internet access troubles:

"In 2005, NASA attempted to upgrade from dial-up to DSL, but the program was aborted when engineers were unable to get the Ethernet hub to function," the story reads.

It's classic Onion content, just the type of ersatz news the publication's writers have produced since the paper was started by a pair of students at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1988. It has grown to become a commercial entity with editorial offices in New York and print distribution in 10 U.S cities. Today more than 3 million people read The Onion each week, online and in print, and a million more listen to Onion Radio News.

For IT managers in need of a little levity, the paper's irreverent, fictional stories provide a welcome escape from the realities of life. Over the years, IT vendors and personalities have inspired a number of classic parodies, and the paper has kept in tune with tech industry highs and lows (See "Dot-Commers To Receive Unemployment Benefits In Form Of Stock Options," from May of 2001.)

As readers have become more Internet-savvy, so has the paper's tech quotient. "A lot of our readers are on the Internet ... and are into the Internet and technology and stuff like that," Koechley says. "I think there's a preponderance of that."

Koechley tends to gravitate toward technology stories, as does features editor Joe Garden. To stay up on current issues, he trolls dozens of IT news sites (including the occasional NetworkWorld.com visit). "I read like 25 Mac rumor sites," Koechley says.

Among Koechley's works is a favorite among techies, "Google Announces Plan To Destroy All Information It Can't Index," which The Onion published in 2005, shortly after Google Earth premiered.

"Although Google executives are keeping many details about Google Purge under wraps, some analysts speculate that the categories of information Google will eventually index or destroy include handwritten correspondence, buried fossils, and private thoughts and feelings," the story reads. "The company's new directive may explain its recent acquisition of Celera Genomics, the company that mapped the human genome, and its buildup of a vast army of laser-equipped robots."

Another classic technology piece from The Onion is "Microsoft Patents Ones, Zeroes," which dates back to early 1998. "With the patent, Microsoft's rivals are prohibited from manufacturing or selling products containing zeroes and ones -- the mathematical building blocks of all computer languages and programs -- unless a royalty fee of 10 cents per digit used is paid to the software giant," the article reads.

Nearly 10 years later, it's still a funny read. The Onion, meanwhile, continues to go back to the Microsoft well for ideas. In February it marked the release of Microsoft Vista with a list of features the new operating system contains, including "Five new card-back designs for Solitaire" and "4,391 security flaws to be patched over next 15 years."

Microsoft lashings are, predictably, a favorite among IT pros. "When they make fun of Microsoft, even better since we have to support a Microsoft network," quips one CTO and faithful Onion reader.

Apple, too, is a common subject of The Onion's roasts.

"Dead iPod Remembered As Expensive," one headline read in mid-2005. "Zartman said that, had she known the iPod's lithium-ion battery would have such a short lifespan, she might have spent more time listening to it."

Early this year, The Onion published this gem: "Apple Unveils New Product-Unveiling Product."

"'Get ready for the future of product introduction,' said [Apple CEO Steve] Jobs, looking resplendent in a black turtleneck and faded jeans. 'The iLaunch will be able to make announcements from this, or any other stage, making human participation in generating consumer awareness almost entirely unnecessary.'"

Part of The Onion's brilliance is its knack for timing.

"Apple Hard At Work Making iPhone Obsolete," the paper trumpeted in February. "When the second-generation iPhone comes out this fall, we want iPhone users to feel not just jealous, but downright foolish for owning such laughably primitive technology," the newspaper quoted Steve Jobs as saying.

In fact, many early iPhone buyers did feel a bit foolish when Apple in September announced a $200 price cut for the 8GB iPhone, just three months after its release.

Following are a handful of other Onion barbs we really like. You can share your favorites at the end.

"Video: All Online Data Lost After Internet Crash"

July 11, 2007

"Officials confirm that all online data has been lost after the Internet crashed and was forced to restart."

"New Billionaire Tries To Develop Eccentricities"

May 5, 2007

" 'When you have $975 million, you're just like everyone else,' said Stern, 41, from the bow of Excelsior, a 58-person canoe that he commissioned for a world-record paddle around the world. 'But I'm a billionaire now. People expect me to use my money to feed my ego to the point of borderline insanity.' "

"Corporation Reaches Goal, Shuts Down"

March 20, 2002

"[Michael] Dell said he made the decision to shut down after learning that the company had passed Cisco Systems as the premier provider of products and services required for customers worldwide to build their information-technology and Internet infrastructures."

"Verizon Introduces New Charge-You-At-Whim Plan"

Aug. 21, 2006

"Verizon Communications, Inc. announced a new service package for its wireless and residential customers that would charge them widely varying, but always high, fees every month depending how the communications giant feels at the time."

"Chess Supercomputer Beaten Up By More Popular Computer"

Nov. 5, 1996

"IBM's Deep Blue, the chess supercomputer that recently contended with world chess champion Gary Kasparov, was beaten up Monday by a Macintosh Performa 6400CD, one of the most popular home computers on the market."

"MySpace Outage Leaves Millions Friendless"

May 30, 2007

"An estimated 150 million people continued to be without social lives Tuesday as a massive system failure at MySpace.com entered its third day. 'We're hoping to have friendship restored to our users as soon as possible,' said David Gundy, a spokesman for the social networking site."

View a slideshow of The Onion's best tech stories.

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