The rise of the internet dog is something only the most prescient science fiction authors could have seen coming. For many years, cats ruled the digital world so completely that an alternative reality was simply unimaginable. Watching them play keyboards or stalk their owners in video after video, the idea that they could be replaced by dogs was simply unimaginable. But, here we are in 2018 where a “dog rating” Twitter account continues to succeed in spite of itself, a columnist can ruin his life by calling man’s best friend a “parasite,” and an entire lexicon of “doggo speak” has (heart)wormed itself into internet culture. For now at least, the dogs have won.
A new video from The New York Times’ “Internetting With Amanda Hess” series looks to explain this unthinkable new world we live in. In it, Hess positions the cat as a Dionysian force of chaos—a creature that humans can never control but only look upon with endless fascination. The internet, as it does, anthropomorphizes this by referring to cats as sneaky, disaster-loving (but ultimately harmless) hell beasts. Dogs, Hess says, are comforting in their predictability. They’re the neatly mowed suburban lawns of the web, always happy-looking and ready to please (even though, unlike cats, most of them could totally kill us if they wanted).
The shift in power from cat to dog—chaos to order—reflects the path the internet has taken. Animal videos used to be shared by friends or found on disorganized websites. Now, they’re regularly delivered, brand-buttressing content. In this ecosystem, cats are too difficult to count on; dogs are reliable earners. Hess takes this a step further, suggesting that the breakdown of cultural and political norms we once took for granted makes us crave the soothing presence of the order-taking, ever cheerful dog.
A third option is never considered: that both dogs and cats are necessary for not only the internet, but the world in general to carry on. They don’t exist on a binary, either as adorable creatures, household pets, or as forces of nature. We need both the cat and the dog to balance one another, to remind us of where we fit among the most extreme, universal forces. And, let’s not forget, we need them to do their own unique brands of cute stuff so we can enjoy a varied stream of animal stuff when trying not to actually get work done.
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