The first time I Googled myself, I was horrified that my the first page of results featured a 2005 LiveJournal entry from a friend recounting how I totally struck out with him in our friend's hot tub after a "Real World"/"Road Rules Challenge"-themed party. Though the post was in jest, with just my highlighted name in the sentence below the result headline, any Googlers would see only that I had subpar mack game with nerdy pseudo-goths if they didn’t click through for context. The link lingered there for years, mocking me.
Then earlier this year, I decided that if I was going to be A Girl That Gets Rejected All the Time, I should get an hourly for my troubles. Combining that impulse with the fact that I was immaturely concerned that the other results on my first few pages were about volunteering and academia and not about how ULTRA-COOL I really was, I started a blog and sent some pitches into the ether.
In a moment of brilliance, I used my first name and last initial for a handful of sites. And yes, I realize now that a middling generalist with mostly soft skills attempting to outsmart the engineering wizards at history’s most game-changing tech company was a fool’s errand. But it was still weird to watch interweb magic connect the dots and see my digital profile transform in a matter of a few months from Serious Graduate Student That Cares About Political Theology and Incarceration to I <3 MY CAT! I REPEL MEN! ONE DIRECTION, AMIRITE GURLS?
While all of the above are true, watching years of more substantive results about me recede in the results concerned me. The primary reason being that if you are going to be an unhinged person on the Internet, you really have to commit. Go Full Slut. Go Full Cat Lady. Go Full Animate Cathy Comic if you must, but don’t half-ass it cause that shit might stick. And I am just a regular person who sometimes writes on the Internet, not anything close to an actual online personality for whom this would be a value-add.
I was still working a pretty buttoned-down job when I forever connected myself to the call-to-action, “It’s time to do ho shit.” I may have disqualified myself from the job of Michael Fassbender’s Wife because I poked fun at him on a celebrity gossip site. If my cat could read and speak, he’d let out an embarrassed, “Mooooooooooom!!!” due to odes I’ve written to him on Catster. And when Keanu Reeves and Daniel Day-Lewis find my blog at one of their sleepovers where they gab about me, they will likely seek restraining orders.
To be clear, friends in my real life know to immediately throw up in my hair if I ever complain about the opportunity to write about cats and celebrities and have personal-thoughts-out-loud for a portion of my living. It is the Holy Trinity of Internet content, if you don’t count porn. It’s fun and has gotten me opportunities and new friends that I wouldn’t have if the Serious Sally of yesteryear searches still dominated. But the consequences have been startling in ways that I did not anticipate.
Oversharer’s regret has, surprisingly, been the least of the issues. I don’t use identifying details without permission when I talk about people and my deepest, darkest secrets are still deep and dark and secret. Even when something I put online totally misses the mark, it has always generated at least some positive response or a good lesson in When To Keep Things to Yourself. See also: millennial panic!, personal brands, and you know, YOLO.
But after more than one article on romantic rejection and even more on cats, a handful of would-be suitors emerged in social media, assuring me that they would NEVER reject a piece of me and we should go on dates and talk about cats. This gave me pause. It was kind of flattering and awesome until it became clear that they thought that literally EVERY SINGLE MAN I have ever gone out with has given me my walking papers. They haven’t. Also, you can’t possibly know if you’ll reject me. You might find me to be a most disagreeable monster person. It happens. It’s fine.
And while it may be that we only live once, we are living once for HELLA LONG. Recent acceptance of the fact that I will likely grow old and more than likely change my mind and my career several times means that some hand-wringing has taken place about my digital footprint. And this experience is by no means exclusive to the ever-growing group of people attaching themselves willingly to online content. Much of your digital footprint is determined by external, sometimes nefarious sources. Like the early aughts LiveJournal, for example.
A search for a friend’s new dude a few years ago brought up a grocery story shoplifting arrest, proving to us that he was the degenerate we all assumed. But in hindsight, he was stealing groceries. That is some Jean Valjean shit and I feel bad that he might be forever haunted by it. An editor friend had her college newspaper inadvertently publish a slapdash, unedited article draft she had written that later came to the top of her results as she sought work in a field exclusively devoted to making things not look slapdash and unedited. Or the friend who made an FB fanpage for “Peeing” so it would say, “X likes peeing” because LOL. She found out years later while in law school that it had gone from inside joke to niche fetish page for folks into that sort of thing. Another shows up as a fetish model and opera singer with a skull tattoo, except it isn’t her, it is a cousin with the same name.
This is quite common for the Sarah Smiths and the John Millers of the world, but it gets trickier for those of us with less common but not exclusive names. For the foreseeable future, we are going to be defined online by a constantly changing and somewhat arbitrary selection of online material, related to us and not, that can’t come close to telling the real story of who we are, what we’re capable of, and what we hope to do with ourselves professionally, romantically, and socially.
Which brings me to an apology to the other Alana Masseys of the world. I REALLY hope I’ve never cost you interviews or dates or whatnots if you were initially mistook for my crazy ass. You gals seem alright and I hope that the noise I make online isn’t harshing your digital mellows. I’ve also been mixing it up with some work on politics and beauty and stuff so that might help us out too.
That said, if you think I’m going to stop taking pictures in front of every one-dimensional rendering of Leonardo DiCaprio I come upon to improve our collective digital presence, you are sorely mistaken.
Watch me dig this hole deeper on Twitter: @alanamassey