Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Peter Steiner Effect

In July of 1993, at the very dawn of the internet age - just three months after Mosaic was launched - The New Yorker published the famous Peter Steiner cartoon: "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog".

This was instantly recognized as a profound truth; but it took some years for the corollary to be noticed.

Yes, nobody on-line knows your real-life appearance - you may very well BE a dog, for all anyone on-line can know. People know you're a dog in real life only if they know you in real life. You are what you present yourself to be.

Which lead to an interesting corollary of the Steiner Observation:
"If you behave like a troll, you ARE a troll".

It's not a question of "Oh, but he's really not like that - in person he's really nice". No.

You are what you present yourself to be.

If you're a rude jerk in your on-line presentation , you ARE a rude jerk. Nobody can tell that you might ALSO be a nice doggie in real life. Internet anonymity lets you transcend the limitations of the flesh, and gives you the opportunity to present your True Self.

It can be quite revealing.

And, of course, Vonnegut pointed this out decades ago, in Mother Night:

"Be careful what you pretend to be
because you are what you pretend to be."

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