Urine and the Internet

Consider this situation: a group of people who never, or very rarely, meet each other, but who know each other and communicate ‘indirectly’ through the following mechanism: there are a number of ‘spaces’ which they do regularly visit, and where they can leave messages for the others to pick up when they come there later. Those people can then respond by leaving their own messages, allowing for ‘conversations’ spread over long periods of time.

What does that sound like? Well, most obviously, it’s how lots of bits of the internet work. But its also, for many people, the main way that domestic dogs communicate with each other. Their messages are deposits of urine and faeces (when it’s not removed by trolls humans) which are obviously much more limited in the scope of what they can express, being non-linguistic. We don’t know exactly what is conveyed, but broadly it’s things like the identity, size, sex, and reproductive status of the dog leaving it, and thereby information also about territories and so forth.

People sometimes allege that the rise of the internet is having psychological effects on humans, who become habituated to the structures of indirect interaction rather than to ‘face-to-face’ communication. I have no idea if they’re right or not. But might we have produced a similar effect on domestic dogs, who have been forced to rely progressively more on urine-based communication than on face-to-face (or more often, face-to-crotch) interactions?

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