viral computer smashing
© Erik Dreyer/Getty Images
Back when video of Vinny Licciardi smashing a computer zigzagged all over the internet, "viral" wan't even a thing yet.
You've seen the video. Everyone on the internet has. A man sits in a cubicle and pounds his keyboard in frustration. A few seconds later, the Angry Man picks up the keyboard and swings it like a baseball bat at his screen-it's an old PC from the '90s, with a big CRT monitor-whacking it off the desk. A frightened coworker's head pops up over the cubicle wall, just in time to watch the Angry Man get up and kick the monitor across the floor. Cut to black.

The clip began to circulate online, mostly via email, in 1997. Dubbed "badday.mpg," it's likely one of the first internet videos ever to go viral. Sometimes GIFs of it still float across Twitter and Facebook feeds. (Most memes barely have a shelf life of 20 minutes, let alone 20 years.)

Beyond its impressive resilience, it's also unexpectedly significant as the prime mover of viral videos. In one clip, you can find everything that's now standard in the genre, like a Lumière brothers film for the internet age: the surveillance footage aesthetic, the sub-30-second runtime, the angry freakout in a typically staid setting, the unhinged destruction of property.

The clip also serves up prime conspiracy fodder. Freeze and enhance: The computer is unplugged. The supposed Angry Man, on closer inspection, is smiling. Was one of the first viral videos-and perhaps the most popular viral video of all time-also one of the first internet hoaxes?

Vinny's Viral Video

Vinny Licciardi didn't realize he had gone viral until he heard one of his coworkers had seen a video of him smacking a computer on TV. Except at the time it wasn't called "going viral" - there was no real precedent for this kind of thing. A video he made with his coworkers had somehow ended up on MSNBC, and thousands of people were sharing it.

At the time, he was working at a Colorado-based tech company called Loronix. The video was shot at Loronix, and the computer he smashed belonged to the company, but he wasn't a frustrated cubicle drone. Loronix was actually a fun place to work, the kind of tech startup where coworkers stay late to play Quake online over the company's coveted T1 line. They weren't usually going full barbarian-horde on their office equipment.

But Loronix was developing DVR technology for security-camera systems and needed sample footage to demonstrate to potential clients how it worked. So Licciardi and his boss, chief technology officer Peter Jankowski, got an analog video camera and began shooting.

They filmed Licciardi using an ATM and pretended to catch him robbing the company's warehouse. Licciardi decided he wanted to be a "disgruntled employee," which gave his boss an idea. "It was pretty ad hoc," Jankowski says. "We had some computers that had died and monitors and keyboards that weren't working, so we basically set that up in a cubicle on a desk."

Jankowski directed the shoot, as Licciardi went to town on a broken monitor and an empty computer case. It took two attempts. "The first take, people were laughing so hard we had to do a second one," Licciardi says.

They converted the video to MPEG-1, so that it'd work best on Windows Media Player and reach the largest amount of people. ("Great resolution-352 x 240," Jankowski adds, laughing.) They put them on promo CDs and handed them out at trade shows with a company brochure; then they forgot about them.

Over the next year, badday.mpg began to circulate through various companies. The large file caused some problems. "Loronix would get calls from these companies saying, 'Hey you know this video of yours is getting passed around, and it's crashing email servers,'" Licciardi says.

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