21 August 2001

"Let the world know you as you are."
    - Fanny Brice

Prompted by some perverse urge, yesterday I decided it was time to look myself up on the World Wide Web. I wanted to see what the viewing public thought it knew about me. I wanted to know how exactly to what extent my private life was exposed, and whether there were opinions or ideas about me in existence that I didn't already know about.

There are many search tools from which I could have chosen, but I decided I'd take the simplest, most direct route I could. I used "Google," which is simple, and fast. I've heard it's currently the most widely used search engine in the world, in regular use by millions of Web surfers. When "Google" was first introduced a couple of years ago, ancient history in dot-com terms, I was amused by the conceit of the site's name, a sly smooshing together of the words "go" and "ogle," and equally pleased by the speed and accuracy of the search results. Today, I am amused by the way people routinely refer to the site as "google," and their bemusement over why a search engine should be named for a cartoon character.

It was to discover how many of these same people had access to information about me I initiated my search.

I forced myself to keep the search simple. First name, space, last name. Search.

My name is not particularly common, with unusual spellings of my given name as well as my family name. Knowing this, I was unprepared for the results, which displayed after 2.3114 seconds of searching. 2,314 pages, with the combinations of "given family," "given," and "family," displayed in order of confidence in the matching criteria. Even after eliminating the pages which did not have an exact match, there were still more than 100 pages.

Who were all these people, and why were they parading around the Internet advertising themselves as me? I decided to look through some of the pages.

I discovered that I am a versatile person, with a stunningly wide range of talents, experiences, and expertise. Depending on whose page you believe is really me, you come away thinking I am married, single, engaged, divorced, or separated. I am a teenager, a forty-something baby boomer, or a retiree. I live in San Francisco, Detroit, Washington DC, Topeka, Dublin, Denpasar, or Toronto. I am a nuclear physicist, an Irish geologist, a writer, a classical musician, a graduate student, an agriculturalist, a teacher, an athlete, a lawyer, a nutrionist, a faith healer, or a marketing assistant. Oh, wait. Faith healers are marketing assistants, aren't they?

I am also deceased, as of October 31, 2000. I died on Halloween after a brief illness. Knowing I died appeals to my sense of irony as I struggle to embrace myself as all these people. As I read my obituary, I was thinking, good, there's one less version of me to be concerned about.

A few pages had email addresses which look very familiar to me, since they are all variations of my own email address. Some pages had contact information that included home addresses, office addresses, and telephone numbers. I could actually pick up my telephone and call myself, if I wanted to. I'm trying to decide whether or not I have the nerve to make contact with others who have walked on this earth and know what it is to react and respond when our name is spoken or written. I feel a kinship with these people, whether they know anything about me or not. And what would I do, should any of them come searching after me?

Excuse me. I need to go update my home page.


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