I only wish I had recorded the moment. I'll have to simply recount it in story-form.
Picture, if you will, a rather disheveled gathering of a half-dozen marginal Despair employees, all crowded around a monitor in the engineering department. It is late in the afternoon, last Wednesday.
As you take in the scene- the sense of anticipation is palpable. Pale-cheeks and bleary eyes beneath a flickering florescent- in other circumstances, the scene might be a depressing one. Yet there's an electricity in the air. Quiet jokes and whispers pass between them. Clearly, whatever binds them together in this moment is special, for the excitement on their faces seems to strain cheek muscles rarely, if ever, used.
"Is it ready?", I whisper to Jud, the engineer whose desk the rest of us encircle.
"Yep. It's ready." He replies, after a sip of something flammable.
There is a too long pause. The thick, familiar hush of a thought shared but unspoken.
Finally, Mike from the call center asks the question on everyone's mind, "Uhhhhh.... Is there, uh, a chance it could... break?"
Another sip- more like a gulp, actually- and then, with a disarming smile, "It won't. It can't."
"Welllllll, it could. Maybe. But it sure won't get a chance to if nobody knows about it...", comes the annoyed rejoinder from Kevin, Despair's other engineer. His eyes drift from Mike's to mine, "So, Marketoid, you gonna bring the noise? Tell the world they can make their own candy hearts? Or we have to do that part, too?"
Now I'M annoyed.
"Hey. The Wailing List is locked and loaded. It's already mailing. So I'm bringing the noise... And 100,000 of my very best friends. Any minute now. "
All eyes drift back to the monitor.
Rachel, the new marketing intern, suddenly bursts out, nearly in song, "I'm so excited! This is so cool! I mean, it's so great to put this out there and see what people do, you know? It's Web 2.0, you know?"
And as dorky as her eruption seemed to the rest of us, it was hard, in that moment, not to share a little bit in her excitement. She, only a few months into her internship, could see Despair as hardened long-timers perhaps could no longer. She could see that what we were doing was, in a very small way, historic. Putting the power to create something humorous, witty, acerbic into the hands of the masses - unleashing all the pent up creativity of the Internet generation and in particular of Despair's captive audience of loyal fans - was something often considered, yet rarely ventured.
But here we were. After weeks of testing and development, photography and preparation- on the verge of tapping into the power of Web 2.0. All gathered around a monitor- using a special tool to watch in real time as the users began to create hearts.
Even Daniel, from his lofty perch in Product Development, had come by to enjoy the moment. Deigning to consort with his lessers for a chance to see what potential sayings might be picked up for next year's BitterSweets. His expression remained largely unreadable- his eyes transfixed on the monitor.
Another minute passed in silence. Then another. I was just about to muse aloud about whether the script had failed before it had even been used when a tiny chime piped out of Jud's speaker. And small JPEG appeared on his screen.
Everyone crowded around- to see what the inaugural Candy Heart from the Despair Candy Heart Generator would say.
Jud read it aloud, intoning as if he were interpreting T.S.Eliot, "SUPER POOPER."
A long pause- broken by Rachel's hopeful chirp, "That's-- just one heart.
Again, solemnly, Jud rang out, "WANNA BOINK?"
A few moments- then a sudden explosion of chimes, as the screen filled almost instantly with user-generated hearts and we all leaned ever closer.
"TRUCK BUTT. TOOTIN ON U."
Another sip, then, "Can't read that one out loud.... Or that one... That's pretty vile, too.... This would get me sued...."
Leaning close, Rachel read those which could not be spoken aloud. Her eyes grew glassy and wet- but seemed unable to break away from the screen. At least not until she read the one about... Something involving produce that should never even enter into a human mind to be visualized. It was too much for her, and she broke out sobbing, "It's awful! They're awful! They're so terrible! Why would they write those things? It's so disgusting."
Mike, quiet to that moment, said only, "This is... Uh.... How the Roman Empire fell apart..."
Jud -- of a steelier make up than many -- soldiered on, quieting muttering those which could be muttered as he scrolled through dozens and dozens of hearts. There were now thousands generated- seemingly there would be ten thousand inside an hour.
Some faces burned in embarrassment. The shame of it was too much even for me, to see the seemingly infinite capacity of people to produce such ugliness.
Kevin nodded his head quietly, then, with a bit of a lilt, noted, "Well... The script seems to be holding up pretty good."
Suddenly- Daniel blurted out, "Stop! Jud- wait, back up! -- I thought I saw..."
Jud stopped, "What- the one about humping the... Um...?"
He trailed off, wisely.
"Wait - that's it! Right there! That one."
Everyone leaned in, and Kevin spoke it aloud, slowly, "DANZIG RULEZ!"
Daniel nodded, a bright smile on a tired face. He turned around to leave, and as he crossed under the doorway, a fist pumped into the air, "Hell YA Danzig Rulez!". Then- perhaps twenty second later- as he was surely deep in the warehouse, the tiniest follow-up, "THAT is a keeper! REDEEMED!
So there ends my story. A half dozen Despair employees learned a hard lesson about the Wisdom or Madness of Crowds and the dangers of user-created content. And yet- incredibly- here I am to announce that the Candy Heart Generator has been updated. Now you can create three hearts at once. Three. It's a chance to write a whole sentence. A chance to achieve something rich and hilarious or poignant and biting. But please- knowing that we are monitoring your output, hoping to see signs of occasional brilliance that would commend you to others, and make you us proud to call you subscribers to The Wailing List- please TRY harder this time. Otherwise, we may have to sell our e-mail list to Dane Cook's marketing department. We don't want to do that... Don't make us do that.
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