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The Internet: Now, Everyone Knows You’re A Dog

Posted By David Brousell, June 03, 2013 at 4:38 PM, in Category: Transformative Technologies

By David R. Brousell

Remember that now-famous New Yorker cartoon about the dog and the Internet? Published in 1993, the cartoon showed a canine saying that, on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. At that time, the prevailing view was that the Internet was a great leveler, where anyone could go to be anonymous, where size or shape didn’t matter, or where you could appear to be just like anyone else. It also meant that, in cyberspace, you didn’t necessarily know who you were dealing with.

Flash forward 20 years and the prevailing view now, as expressed at the Dow Jones’ All Things D conference last week in California, is that on the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog.

That’s quite a transformation in just 20 years’ time. But it may be just a warm-up considering what is happening with the Internet and the fast-moving technologies that people use to access it, organize and share information, and even re-imagine products and companies in the years ahead.

In what has become an annual report on the Internet, Mary Meeker, a partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, told attendees at the All Things D conference that we are entering a time of “unprecedented transparency” as people increasingly share information about themselves online.

About 24% of Internet users worldwide, according to Meeker, say they share everything or most things online, although in the U.S. only 15% say they do. Saudi Arabia, India and Indonesia are the three countries where Internet users share the most information about themselves.

What’s even more interesting about this trend is that Internet penetration rates are growing most strongly in emerging markets. In the U.S., for example, Internet access, now at 78% of the population, is growing at only 3% per year. But in China and India, which so far have 42% and 11% penetration rates, respectively, growth is 8% annually.

Not only is the growth of Internet users significantly higher in emerging markets, but users in those areas are tending to dominant the worldwide Internet conversation more than their American counterparts through greater information sharing. What might this portend for the future?

Meeker appears to see a positive in the overall information sharing trend and what she calls “transparency.” She even sees this trend enabling people to feel more secure. “The world may be on the cusp of being safer than ever,” she told conference attendees.

I’m not so sure about that one, but I do think it is clear that the information explosion that is accompanying the expansion of Internet access is putting more knowledge and power in the hands of individuals. Whether they use it for good or for ill remains to be seen. Given our nature, one has to expect some of both.

It may also be true that, globally speaking, we are entering an information-sharing competition in which success in innovation, for example, might become increasingly dependent upon this capability.

As we attempt to understand the ramifications of Internet-enabled global information sharing, we will also need to find our footing between sharing information about ourselves and our companies and the desire and need for privacy, a concern with perhaps a different tradition in the West than in the East.

Our New Yorker canine friend made a valuable point about anonymity back in 1993 when he said nobody knows you’re a dog on the Internet.  Perhaps that sheltered view is now passe for some, but it may behoove us to think a little bit more about where we want the line to be drawn between our private and public lives on both a corporate and personal level. 


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Written by David Brousell

Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council



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