I propose a theory that using the Internet causes gender confusion in general and therefore is partially causing the increase in people wanting to transition or be non-binary. My rationale is based on a concept I call the mode of communication, which is defined as the way that in-person communication is technologically abstracted into a reduced number of variables and related data. Since the invention of language, we have relied more and more heavily in communications technology. Modern varieties of the mode of communication include only sound (telephone), only words (books/writing/texting), pictures with or without sound (selfies/movies/video calls), and other modes.
So for example, when you talk to someone in person, you can receive a ton of data on their gender expression, their physical health and size, their race, and their nationality. When you communicate via phone, qualities like race are much harder to detect. Gender is usually understandable by phone because testosterone causes the frequency of the voice to fall at puberty. What I surmise is that as people began to transition their communication from in-person to telephone in the early 20th century, race should have diminished in importance for the early adopters. The basic hypothesis here is that the technological mode of communication cannot carry certain human categories and that an increase in the usage of that technology should correlate with a change in cultural values over time.
So, going back to my original hypothesis which said that Internet usage should lead to a change in the cultural value of gender as a category, take the following example. When one uses Reddit, one does not know the gender of the person they are communicating with. They just know that their handle is VeryLargeLaptop67 or some other genderless name. If one spends enough time on a message board like Reddit, gender is almost meaningless. Therefore certain societal mores and boundaries for males or females can be crossed without consequence. Children who grow up using the Internet live in two worlds, the physical world with its rigidly defined gender roles and the virtualized world where gender is meaningless. As a note, although gender is still visible in visual modes of communication like YouTube or Instagram, these gender presentations can be faked or the mode can be avoided.
I am a transgender woman that has taken estrogen for a decade. I struggled with my gender identity growing up, and transition has been a difficult but ultimately freeing experience for me. I also grew up very immersed in the Internet, way before most of my peers. I was running a BBS at age 13 in the 1990s, for example. I do think that operating in that environment made gender much less important of a concept for me, but I also think my gender presentation would be feminine even without the Internet. However, because of the Internet I was able to experiment with my gender without fear of being attacked. So I assume that the Internet was therapeutic in allowing me to understand my personal values in relation to what society told me to be based on my gender at birth.
What do you think? Can the adoption of communications technology lead to more progressive values? I know this is a big subject, and this is a simplification, but the way that we are seeing both an massive increase in Internet usage and a massive increase in transgenderism inspires me to think that they may be fundamentally correlated. This could also be a mechanism for social confusion and the splitting that we are seeing. People over 60 really don’t need to use the Internet, and their modes of communication tend to be in-person, telephone, or television/movies, all of which allow for gender to be transmitted. So someone that uses Reddit all day might look at individuals using older modes of communication as bigoted when the difference is largely that both people have adapted to their modes of communication.
Anyway, this is a theory I’ve been throwing around. If I’m right, the covid lockdown should lead to a massive shift towards progressive, genderless, raceless society and culture over time because in-person communication is being replaced with modes of communication that do not transmit gender or race.