Please Return to Your Assigned Archetypes for Duration of the Flight

One of my favorite parts about this online playground is that it's a community of minds, not bodies, that functions perfectly well for people looking to interact with grey matter rather than skin tones, gender bias, homophobia, and any other physical labeling. I know the name, gender, race, and/or sexuality of approximately 1% of the people I've ever interacted with, and I like it that way. I can write words, and you can write words back. We can get smarter without that pesky interface of human flesh, and if after a round of healthy sparring you tell me you're a sixty-year-old Egyptian mother of seven, my mind will be blown. Stereotypes will be broken. It's a beautiful thing.

But there's a funny thing that happens when you don't have a full profile staring in front of you. Our minds don't interact with incorporeal beings very well—we haven't evolved to that point yet—so instead of leaving our nationalities, genders, and sexualities blank, our brains go to work filling in the gaps. What does their name mean? It sounds very feminine. They work in construction? Oh... Why are they getting offended with a simple joke? Who doesn't know what the Fibonacci sequence is? We fill out each others' census questionnaires and almost never do we ask for guidance.

Sometimes we're right—we do this every day after all. She's a thirty-year-old political activist, white, middle class, with a sexual deviancy that has been under stimulated her whole life. We go on interacting with them based on our assumptions, often supplementing facts about their lives based on friends and acquaintances we've formed over the years. Think right now of one of your online friends who you talk to without really knowing anything about. Do you chat with them like one of your old friends? A family member? A coworker? An ex? Do they seem to just fall right into that rut your brain has already trudged with someone else's wheels? It's easier that way. We don't like to write new biographies for each person we meet when we can adapt the memoirs we've already read.

But this trajectory is sure to fail, and it's all Snacktastic's fault. (I'M KIDDING HARDER THAN I HAVE EVER KID BEFORE). But really, think about her interview series and any of the many meetups. What happens when you hear a person's voice that you've been vocalizing yourself or see someone's attire that you've been weaving on your own for years? They don't fit into my predetermined cadence. They don't sound like him. Why would she say that? Why are they wearing that? They shouldn't be taking that long to answer a simple question. The illusion breaks. They're their own person, not the fictional character you've drawn up, and ultimately you can no longer control them. I'm speaking in hyperbole, but you get what I mean.

So what do we do? Well we can act appalled and never speak to them again, but that's idiotic. What if we learn something instead? What if, ironically, this online oasis of acceptance and progressivism is built upon a network that strips away identities, and when the personalities rush back in, we get a whole new opportunity to challenge our own projections, assumptions, and prejudices? We shouldn't be shy to learn what people actually sound like (as if they didn't sound like that before). We can meld together all the great things we already knew about them through endless comment threads with the great things we're learning about them now to create an uber-great person in real life. Isn't that pretty cool? I think so.

And besides, those imaginary friends we had living in our mind will never truly go away. Like the vixen in the picture above proclaims, "I will always love the false images I had of you."