On April Fools day of 2012 the web comic xkcd released comic 1037: Unwelt. xkcd, written by Randall Munroe often releases interactive
comics. What makes this comic distinct is the delivery and underlying message. The title alone could tip viewers off that Munroe was up to something if
they knew what “Unwelt” meant. According to The Routledge Companion to Semiotics it roughly means: self-centered world. Instead of releasing one
comic for the entire world to see, Munroe delivered a specific comic to the reader. This way it appears that each viewer got their own comic in their own
The comics were all drawn with Munroe’s set of stick figure characters. While the comic that appeared could be any one from a list of dozens, the xkcd website remained the same with its simple white and light blue color scheme. No flash animation or background music appeared in the comics
because the viewer was meant to direct all of their attention to the comic
At the time of release the comic appeared individualized unlike any of xkcd’s previous comics. Munroe created an algorithm that assigned a comic
to the viewer with input parameters that included their browser, location, operating system, referrer and others. The method for comic delivery is
explained on YCombinator. For instance, users of the Chrome browser received a comic making fun of Chrome and urging them to switch to the Firefox browser.
The comics were not biased toward any organizations, because Firefox users received a comic making fun of Firefox lying about Firefox’s privacy security.
Even with individualized comics Munroe gave every comic the same primary message: everything in life is relative. One instance of this occurred when users
on the military network viewed xkcd. The comic they received showed the character Cueball asking why they were reading a comic instead of watching
for incoming missiles. Even, though, Cueball entraps the viewer, the comic ends thanking members of the armed forces for their service. In this manner the
question is respectively asked why members of the armed forces can access comics on military networks when they should be watching for incoming missiles.
Another example of looking at the bigger picture occurs when the characters Cueball and Megan are in a store trying to buy a lamp. They keep checking the
reviews of the lamp on Amazon only to be dissuaded not to buy the lamp for reasons that have nothing to do with the lamp. The obvious joke here mocks
consumers who incorporate irrelevant reviews into their purchasing decisions. At a global level the comic forces us to be aware of how our actions -
writing a review - will affect the lives of others even during something as mundane as buying a lamp.
The final component of this comic is explained on explainxkcd:
Umwelt is the idea that because their senses pick up on different things, different animals in the same ecosystem actually live in very different worlds.
Everything about you shapes the world you inhabit--from your ideology to your glasses prescription to your web browser.
This relates directly back to the definition for “Unwelt” from The Routledge Companion to Semiotics. For a brief moment the viewer’s singular
world shatters when they realize that the same comic appeared and was laughed at thousands of times around the world by others. All those people shared a
similar experience because they were part of one universe. Regardless of the viewer’s current frame of reference they must live alongside and interact with
others. xkcd comic 1037: Unwelt contributes to this awareness through a commonplace routine in our lives.
"1037: Unwelt." Web log post. Explain XKCD. Wikipedia, 1 Apr. 2012. Web. 21 June 2014. <http://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/1037>.
Cobley, Paul. The Routledge Companion to Semiotics. London: Routledge, 2010. 348-49.
"Xkcd's Mindboggling April Fools Comic | Hacker News." Hacker News. YCombinator, 1 Apr. 2012. Web. 03 July 2014.