"+K Robert," i.e. Skud, posted (https://plus.google.com/103325808503679220346/posts/Xq1SyqSBnuZ) about the dehumanization implicit in Eric Schmidt's "dogs" analogy. But her post got me thinking in a different direction:

On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog. No one knows that you're a woman (or that you're neither a woman nor a man). No one knows that you're black (or Native American, or Tamil, or Ainu, or...). No one knows if you're gay (or bisexual, or asexual, or something else altogether...) No one knows you're a socialist (or a royalist, or an anarchosyndicalist, or ...) No one knows you aren't able-bodied. No one knows you're under 18. No one knows you aren't a citizen of an English-speaking country in North America. No one knows you aren't a Christian. Nobody knows you're poor. Nobody knows you aren't [fill in the blank]

This is because, on the Internet, unless you mark yourself somehow, people presume you are in the unmarked state, their dominant culture's default for personhood.

Does a sales clerk follow you around every time you go into Macy's? You can browse Amazon.com to your heart's content without harassment. Do you have trouble breaking into the conversation at the sports bar, or does it devolve into everyone hitting on you? Talk away at Baseball Think Factory.

An important part of having an Internet persona not directly linked to real-world identity is that it gives many people who otherwise wouldn't have it what is for them the luxury of social interaction with the presumption of privilege that goes with the unmarked state. They get interactions with the world that they otherwise have, if at all, with only their closest friends.

And when we compel people on the Internet to tie their online persona with their flesh-and-blood identity, revealing their race, class, gender, ability status, nationality, and all the rest, that lets other people on the Internet (not you or I of course, we would never do this, but those unwashed others very likely will) make peculiar assumptions about otherness, take people less seriously for their difference, alienate them with insensitive jokes, mock them for their otherness, sometimes actively try to drive them away, threaten flesh-and-blood violence, bring the wrath of the law upon them....

On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog. So if you and I come to be friends on the Internet, and one day I find out you are a dog, one of at least two things might happen: I might be incensed to find out the truth, accusing you of lying by omission, denouncing you to our mutual friends, poisoning our relationship and your others. Or, I might reflect upon how your identity as a dog hadn't interfered with our relationship hitherto, and this could change how I view other dogs, all dogs, perhaps for the better.

Unless that happens, though, I assert it is your, and anyone's, right to step into the unmarked state on the Internet, to wear it and learn how it feels.

This is perilously close to a tract in favor of assimilation. What I am actually trying to argue is that, without strict identity controls, the Internet can offer the experience of assimilation, so that people of non-mainstream identity can check it out and try it on -- and walk away afterwards. In the end, I would much rather live in a world where people don't feel the need to assimilate, where genuine diversity flourishes. We don't live in that world, though, not yet.
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