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On The Internet, Nobody Knows You’re A Dog

March 2, 2015



(Wikipedia)

You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but the above cartoon is the most popular cartoon ever printed in the New Yorker magazine. It was drawn by Peter Steiner and appeared on July 5th, 1993. It’s become almost a catchphrase of sorts. The comic embodies the idea that online we can be whoever, or whatever we want. 

We’ve come a long way since 1993, of course. In fact, in today’s world of facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn!, Pintrest, Twitter and more, you would probably have a hard time hiding the fact you are a dog. The first selfie you posted would be a dead give away. Not to mention the fact that you bark at all the cute cat videos.

But, while your online presence is certainly a reflection of you, the opportunity exists to shape that presence and use social media to craft the face you show the world. This week I’ll be talking about several social media platforms and explaining how I’ve attempted to use facebook, LinkedIn!, Twitter and this blog to keep people from knowing I’m a dog. 

Today I want to talk about what being online means to me. I want to tell you the story of two of my greatest friends in the world, Chasm and Margit. We were introduced by Orson Scott Card, the controversial author of Ender’s Game. But, he wasn’t controversial in 1995 when we met. And in fact, we didn’t even meet Scott. We joined a writing group together at a place called Hatrack River. (www.Hatrack.com)

Hatrack River was an interactive writing experience. The setting was in OSC’s Alvin Maker series of stories. You created a character and then wrote as that character describing your interaction with other characters who were also writing as in story characters. I know it sounds sort of dry and boring. But, for a writer, and a fan of OSC’s stories, it was a wonderful place. I wrote several characters and Chasm and Margit wrote some of the people I interacted with. Over the course of months and eventually years, we became friends. Ironically, my character and Chasm’s were bitter enemies, but he and I hit it off. 

We eventually started sending emails telling each other about our kids and families. He lived in Yellville, AK, I lived in Maple Valley, WA. He had a teenage son, I had babies. We even called a couple of times to chat. Chasm wasn’t well, physically. He’d been in a terrible car accident and never really recovered. Writing for him was a chance to run and be physically active. Things that were denied to him in real life.  

As the summer of 1996 approached, I decided that I wanted to surprise my friend. I’d never been to the South, but my young family loved road trips. I decided we would take our summer vacation and drive out to Arkansas to see him this man that I had never met, but had come to call my friend. In May I got an email from his wife. He’d  passed away suddenly from complications due to his injuries. 

You might find it odd that I grieved for a man I’d never actually met, in person at least. He’d been a kindred spirit, and even today, 20 years later, I still miss him. 

Margit’s character in Hatrack River and mine were great friends and we became great friends. Eventually we all drifted away from Hatrack River, but I still kept in touch with Margit. She announced a few years later that she was getting married. How could I miss my friend’s wedding? It was a sight to greet her in the receiving line. She stared at me with a blank expression. 

You don’t know me, do you?

Umm. . . . .

I’m some weirdo you met on the Internet.

I told the story in more detail here (Some Weirdo She Met On The Internet Showed Up At Her Wedding.)

I tell these two stories to show that despite the fact that we may never see some of the people we meet online, we can still form strong attachments to them. And just as we can make judgements and form opinions of those we meet online, they are doing the same thing to us. And back in the 90’s you pretty much had to put yourself on the Internet to be noticed. Today, you really don’t have a choice. You are going to be online whether you choose to or not. However, you do get to choose, to a large extent, what people see about you. 

While they may figure out you’re a dog, you still get to choose which tricks to show them. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

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