Like many people, I am a big fan of Peter Steiner’s classic 1993 New Yorker cartoon. “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
It packs a lot of meaning about everything that is weird and crazy about being on-line into one very clever and totally on-point joke. The joke works because the disconnect between your “real life” identity and your internet identity is a knife that cuts in so many directions.
On the one hand the internet levels the playing field, allowing people to get in the game, regardless of appearance, ethnicity, age, wealth or other relatively superficial signifiers of social status. On the other hand, that same cloak of anonymity allows some really terrible stuff to happen.
I thought of it today because our lab is submitting our work to a conference, and the conference allows only one person to be the official submitter. Yet since we are all working on the submission together, we need to share a single username and password.
Our solution is to create a make-believe user — our lab. This imaginary “lab” person is going to submit the work, and presumably will also have the option to attend the conference. Which is less crazy than it used to be, now that conferences can be attended on-line.
So the thought that has been going through my head all day is: “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a lab.”