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Nathan Hansen's column: It's salad days on the Internet

Before we start here it seems important to acknowledge that people did plenty of stupid things before the Internet was ever invented.

There were fads that involved swallowing goldfish, or cramming more people into a phone booth than standard operating procedures would ever call for. For a while in the 1970s, somebody put rocks into cardboard boxes and sold them as pets. And people bought them by the hundreds of thousands because … actually, I have no idea. Maybe because Pokemon hadn’t been invented yet.

Whatever the reason, somebody in this country made more than $1 million because he decided to put a rock in a box and selling it to people. Think about that when it’s time to go to work tomorrow.

I don’t know how far back this kind of silliness goes. The earliest humans might have been too busy worrying about getting eaten by bears to work any kind of prehistoric cinnamon challenge, but I imagine the invention of fire was followed relatively closely by the first lit fart.

All the Internet has really done is made it easier to share the stupid things we do. Or at least give them names. Passing out in a public park is just planking as long as you take a picture and post it online.

Anything can be a trend as long as it’s got a hashtag and someone who’s willing to talk about it on TV or in a newspaper.

Consider that the New York Times published a story on July 3 about a teen trend called Vamping. Vamping, the story reports, involves staying up late and then posting something with the hashtag #vamping.

So, to rephrase that: The New York Times just published a story to report that teenagers stay up late. Presumably this is different than previous generations of teenagers, who all had their milk and cookies and were in bed by 9:30. Right after they took their pet rock for a walk.

Or, consider potato salad. Or, rather, consider a very specific potato salad as envisioned by a man who calls himself Zack “Danger” Brown.

Zack Danger had the idea to post a potato salad and his making of it to the crowd funding site Kickstarter. Presumably he thought it would be funny. Who, after all, would pay to have someone make a single batch of potato salad? The goal for his project was $10.

As of Wednesday morning he had received nearly $59,000 in contributions. That’s up something like $20,000 from what it was when I checked it Tuesday morning.

And the funding period doesn’t even end until Aug. 2.

That’s a lot of cash for a foodstuff that is, let’s be honest, kind of gross.

According to the Kickstarter page, 1,457 people had contributed $1 as of Wednesday morning. It’s a small sacrifice to make for the opportunity to tell your friends you backed the Kickstarter potato salad. Another 434 supporters have pledged $35 to the project. At that level you receive an Internet potato salad t-shirt, so there is clear proof you were willing to spend your hard-earned cash on a mayonnaise-based picnic food made by a stranger on the Internet.

That kind of success has inspired imitators, of course. Kickstarter currently features one other potato salad and two macaroni salads. Someone else is trying to find support for his baked bean-based endeavor.

None of the others had raised more than $10 last I checked. I bet nobody bought the pet stick, either. Or whatever else somebody tried to sell in the wake of the whole pet rock adventure.

You know what? If that’s the way people want to spend their money, then more power to them. That money could go to charity, sure, or be spent on arcade tokens. But let’s be honest: Someone willing to spend $30 on mystery Internet salad was never going to put that money in a 401k.

I don’t know what the next big Internet sensation will be, but I’m determined to get in on the ground floor this time. And I think the time might just have come for #petstick.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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