In 2000, The Onion Made Fun of "Area Man" For Looking Things Up on the Internet

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Nov. 27 2012 12:20 PM

"Area Man" From Old Onion Internet Parody Was Ahead of His Time

Onion Internet parody article
Imagine searching for everything on the Internet rather than just looking it up in a book like a normal person.

Screenshot / The Onion

The Onion’s “area man” tends to be a little low on self-awareness. He’s often the butt of a joke that everyone gets except him. But in the case of an Internet parody article that the satirical newspaper published in January of 2000, it turns out area man was simply ahead of his time.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

The story, headlined “Area Man Consults Internet Whenever Possible,” pokes fun at a fictional 36-year-old Columbus-area office worker’s penchant for turning to the Web for information rather than simply making a phone call or looking it up in the newspaper like a normal person. From the story:

"Are you trying to find out what time Angela's Ashes is playing at Crosswoods Marcus Cinema?" Wisniewski asked his wife Pamela, noticing her looking through The Columbus Dispatch's movie listings. "I can log on to theDispatch's web site and check it in a flash."
"Now that my household is hooked up to the Internet, nothing is out of reach," Wisniewski said. "With the click of a mouse, anything we could want to know is available–even stuff that's otherwise only available in print."

To his wife’s growing annoyance, the clueless Wisniewski goes on to look up restaurant directions on Mapquest rather than calling the restaurant, search for pancake recipes on Altavista rather than reading the Bisquick box, and use an online dictionary instead of the print version.

The article’s timing nicely illustrates the pitfalls of lampooning technological progress. It was published the same month that AOL merged with Time Warner and began its precipitous decline, and four months before upstart Google won the contract to power the search results of Yahoo, the world’s most popular search site at the time. In other words, early 2000 was just about the last possible moment that a passage like this would have summed up the average Onion reader’s online experience:

"Last week, we had a houseguest who was wondering if there were any Jesuit colleges in Ohio," Wisniewski said. "All I had to do was open up my AOL software, enter my password, point the browser to, and click on Society & Culture, followed by Religion & Spirituality. From there, I had only to click Faiths & Practices, then Christianity, then Denominations & Sects, and then Catholic. Then I simply clicked on Orders, Jesuits, Colleges & Universities, Ohio, and boom, right there in front of me are Xavier University in Cincinnati and John Carroll University in Cleveland."

As Kevin Marks noted on Twitter yesterday, the Onion piece “is pretty much a product spec for Google.” It’s making the rounds this week thanks to a Wellington, New Zealand-area man named Chris McDowall, who for some reason posted it on a social-media site rather than simply clipping it out, Xeroxing it, and sending it to all of his friends and colleagues by mail.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.



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