Tuesday, February 20, 2024
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Eleven Ways to Sniff Out Dogs Online

The First Principle of Electronic Communication was defined in a cartoon in the July 5, 1993, edition of the New Yorker. There are two dogs in the cartoon. One, who is seated at a desk in front of a computer, is saying to the other, “On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog.”

This cartoon is often cited by social critics and other scolds eager to sound the alarm about the dangers of taking people at face value when we can’t see their faces. Such advice falls squarely into the don’t-dump-scalding-coffee-on-your-lap category: It’s helpful to a point, but it’s somewhat lacking in nuance.

Obviously people should be told that a rendezvous at the Hour Glass Motel with somebody called The Love Muffin, whom they’ve just met online, isn’t a four-star idea. Nevertheless once a person has internalized that bit of personal safety advice, she or he still faces an overriding challenge: How does one separate the men from the mutts, the women from the woofers, online? How do you avoid the heartbreak of showing up for scones and chai at some tony establishment with the requisite nature prints on the wall, only to find that the person you’re supposed to meet there is drinking from a bowl?

In order to help people avoid that sticky wicket, I have prepared the Sirius Internet Fabrication Test (SIFT), a precision psychometric instrument designed to keep the wag from tailing a dog. Readers are advised to turn two enthusiastic dew claws down on the urge to get better acquainted with anyone who lights up the SIFT scoreboard on more than two of the following eleven items, all of which suggest that the person you’re talking to in a chat room is really a dog.

11. Chat room name is Commander or Princess.

10. Insists on meeting in PetSmart instead of a restaurant.

 9. Only measures height to the shoulders.

 8. Wants to know how old you are in dog years.

 7. Thinks the pause button on the keyboard is misspelled.

 6. Asks repeatedly if you’ve been fixed.

 5. Acts weird about exchanging photos.

 4. Just had the entire summer house re-roofed for $100.

 3. Asks if you thought Men in Black II was better than the original.

 2. Can’t understand why people make such a fuss about quintuplets.

 1. Shows unusual interest in the schedule of the e-mailman.

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