SOMEWHERE NEAR BOSTON. It’s 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but you wouldn’t know it from the hum of activity here in the basement of an undisclosed location in the western suburbs of Boston.
In front of computer terminals sit two night owls who will only allow themselves to be referred to by their first names–Rocco and Chester–if this reporter is to be permitted a look at the fascinating and frightening world of an internet “bucket shop,” a generator of memes and videos that captivate lonely people around the world whose “eyeballs” on their screens translate into big advertising dollars.
“You humans are so naïve!”
Those illicit revenues in turn fuel a world-wide ring of drug “buys” that keep the masterminds behind this unnerving look at the seamy underside of the world wide web fat, happy–and high as kites.
“C’mere,” Rocco says to his partner in crime, a scruffy-looking creature whose orange exterior makes him look like a fugitive from a tanning parlor, or a President of the United States.
“What is it?” Chester says, slowly raising himself up from his keyboard.
“It’s those damn Corgis again!” Rocco hisses, and indeed when Chester looks over his partner’s shoulder he sees a pair of the adorable dwarf Welsh herding dogs that have lately soared in popularity due to widespread exposure in videos and photographs on the internet.
Corgi: Oh, put a sock in it.
“We’re going to have to do something,” Rocco says, and it is apparent that his partner not only shares his concern, but feels he’s understating the problem.
“That’s nothing,” he says. “Google ‘cute sea otter’ and see what you get.”
“2,946,328 pages views–and it’s still early!”
The two anonymous monitors of web traffic are members of the species Felis catus, the common housecat, who until recently have had little competition for the hearts and minds of bored web browsers of the human variety. “The internet grew out of the Arpanet, which was designed solely for military uses,” says technology historian Milo Iyakaris. “If it hadn’t been for pornography and cat videos, the internet would today be as useless as a fax machine, as Paul Krugman once memorably predicted.”
At stake are the millions of “clicks” each day that advertisers pay for in order to promote their products in banner ads to unsuspecting consumers, who associate the pleasure they derive from cute animals to the merit of a particular brand. “I saw the cutest video of cats jumping on Christmas trees the other day,” says Myrna Lynn Goshke of Glasgow, Missouri. “I rushed out and bought three boxes of Triscuits, the delicious and surprisingly wholesome snack cracker, I felt so bad about getting to see it for free.”
“Bears in swimming pools are killing us.”
The virtual lock that cats have had on the adorable critter market for the past two decades seems likely to hold for at least the near future, but cats like Rocco and Chester are taking no chances that the revenue stream that keeps them in catnip will continue to flow. “Oh my God,” Rocco exclaims as he scrolls down his “wall” on Facebook.
“What now?” Chester asks, his shaking voice revealing his concern.
“What kind of sick individual would give a prairie dog a vanilla wafer?”