If the Internet had a motto, it might be this:

“DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID. BUT IF YOU DO, MAKE SURE TO GET IT ON CAMERA SO WE CAN LAUGH AT YOUR EXPENSE.”

These words were uttered (err, posted, I guess) on a Homestuck fan’s Tumblr recently in celebration of International Homestuck Month. It’s probably a Homestuck-ism of some kind, so by taking it as a moment of Internet insight, I’m sure I’m somehow making an ass of myself.

If that’s the case, I hope you at least get a laugh at my expense.

It seems like it’s just a matter of time until every one of us does something that sets us squarely in the crosshairs of the Internet’s point-and-laugh machine. Because the Internet is practically designed to surface these moments and laser in as much attention on them as possible.

I mean, if you’re a politician and you accidentally tweet a link to porn—instead of a post demonstrating income inequality—then you deserve what you get, in my opinion. And don’t worry too much anyways, because I don’t think anyone takes you seriously in the halls of government unless you’ve had a sex scandal or two.

But as we all know by now, it isn’t just government officials caught in the act here. The annals of the Internet are full of people doing stupid stuff for the rest of us to laugh at.

***

Like the politician’s tweet, most of our stupid mistakes online seem to involve porn.

In Australia recently, a few office workers noticed that they could see a man’s screen in the office building across the way. He was watching porn. Soon, it was all over Twitter.

Given the fact that pretty much everyone watches porn (I mean, of course, everyone except you and me—we’re the exceptions that prove the rule), it seems like it’s only a matter of time till something like this happens to every single one of us. 

Especially given the fact that your Blackberry comes out of the box set up to tell everyone you know whenever you’re watching porn. But then, who buys a Blackberry anymore?

Since it’s now evidently bound to happen to everyone eventually, porn companies have apparently decided that embarrassing porn-related incidents can be a good customer acquisition tool. PornHub recently offered a free membership to one professor who accidentally streamed porn to an entire class after a presentation.

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Strangely enough, the stream of happenstance embarrassment isn’t enough for the Internet. Instead, it’s created a culture of pranking and practical jokes.

April Fool’s Day is basically a major holiday on the Internet now. Just about every major Internet company tries to get in on the act; Google has a long tradition of April Fool’s pranks—this year Google Nose. Users get in on the act just as much, including our very favorite Internet users, even George Takei. Even if you’re not Internet royalty, you can get in on the fun—here’s a few of our favorites. I suggest you bookmark it for next year.

Or don’t wait a year. For many, practical jokes are a year-round phenomenon on the Internet. A whole class of YouTubers specialize in pranks.

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I remember as a kid, seeing practical jokes and pranks in movies and thinking they were especially funny, and somehow desirable—though it’s not immediately obvious why having your shower head filled with green jello mix should be appealing. In real life, practical jokes usually just turn out a little more...lackluster.

Whether it’s an intentionally elaborate prank, or merely capturing the exact worst moment of an embarrassing situation, the Internet does live up to the broad humor of those movies. It’s summer comedies on a low budget. And it still is, after all, in some sense, real life.

Maybe the fact that real life online can be as good as a movie will change humanity’s reaction to embarrassments like these. I wonder in particular about porn-related gaffes: will the fact that they happen to so many of us make them less embarrassing? Is the embarrassment about sex merely a cultural phenomenon left to us by our Victorian and Puritan forebears? If that’s the case, then as our culture becomes characterized by embarrassing porn moments perhaps we’ll be acculturated out of it.

Or maybe embarrassment about sex is hard-wired into us and no matter how many times it happens it will still be embarrassing and funny.

However it works out, whether it’s embarrassing porn-moments or specific pranks, these moments often have the odd effect of bringing people together. Some of them are too mean-spirited for that, of course, but many are not. Most, I’d say, are actually ultimately good-natured. I don’t think the office workers who caught the guy watching porn thought he was doing anything terrible.

I may have watched Porky’s a few too many as a kid, but to me, all the gags make the Internet feel a little bit like summer camp.

Screengrab via foxabulous/YouTube