Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Dangers of Google

It is becoming more and more clear to me that I am not the only one who Googles myself. Some of y'all probably remember the incident wherein I blogged about a Margaret Cho stand-up routine being unfunny, and noted she had mentioned that she was in a lawsuit with her ex-manager. Shortly thereafter, her former manager actually contacted me, wanting to know more about what Margaret said. Not wanting to get caught in some kind of spat/legal proceeding I had nothing to do with, I dropped the matter. Not so with the manager, as I noticed her address showing up in my site meter records now and again for months afterwards. (Of course, she could just like my blog. If so, hi there, Margaret Cho's ex-manager! Can you get me a comedy writing gig? Let's do lunch!)

Now, something a little bit more unsettling has occurred. It seems a certain well-known mentalist/paranormalist/magician who shall go unnamed in this post in case he's still Googling himself, found a post I'd written several months ago that mentioned him, and decided to email me about it. It was a nice email, flattering my blog in the beginning, saying I'd made keen observations on his routine and noting that I'd tried to be objective. Taking a bit of a wounded tone, however, he then mentioned some sources I'd referred to that indicated an organization he is affiliated is a nefarious, pseudo-religious group for the purpose of making its leader rich and powerful. He said that wasn't his experience, and he'd be happy to "dialogue" with me, to better represent himself authentically.

As in the previous case, my first reaction to this was "how did this person find my little corner of self-indulgent chatter?" We all know that Google (and other search engines) and Technorati have made it possible to find thousands of instances of certain words one is seeking. However, the fact that these people are able to find my obscure blog this way is not just impressive ("wow - Google really can find anything") and alarming ("yikes - guess my little rants aren't as under-the-radar and anonymous as I thought") but somewhat telling.

I say telling for two reasons. One, it shows that the folks writing me are actively looking to see what information is drifting about the Intrawebs about themselves. It's something most of us do at one point or another, but one has to be especially circumspect to find a minor outpost of the blogosphere like mine, which proves a certain hyper-vigilance. Two, it is telling because of the search terms they would have to enter to find my posts that referred to them. In the mentalist's case, for example, if you search for his name on Google, my blog doesn't seem to come up - at least for the first ten pages of results I bothered perusing. But, run a search for his name and the word "cult"? It's right there on the first page. Very interesting.

I mean, does someone search for the word "cult" attached to their name because they've been unfairly associated with that word, or do they search for that word with their name because they are affiliated with a cult and that information has been posted before on the Internet? It's a little chicken and egg, but it's a curious quandary, and it brings me to my next reaction to these emails: "why do these people care what I wrote?"

Seriously, both of those posts were throw-away bits in pieces rife with purely subjective opinion on this matter and that - ramblings and rants, if you will. To search for a mention of oneself so thoroughly is one thing, and to take the mention so seriously as to contact the author, however little-known, is another. On the one hand, I can understand the impulse - I'm sure if I found a blog mentioning me I might be tempted to clarify things or say howdy. On the other, I'm not a public figure, so I wouldn't expect to be mentioned, and I imagine if I was a public figure, I'd ignore it or let my PR rep handle it, you know?

I guess my third and final reaction, then, is... just being kind of squicked out. Not only have my toss-away comments been noticed, but these people attempted to communicate about them with me in private. It just seems too personal, somehow. Not to mention, anyone affiliated with a strict religious/spiritual group scares me a bit, anyway, whether it's technically a "cult" or not. When it comes to true believers and my fear of attempted indoctrination, I'm just as wary of priests, imams and rabbis as I am of gurus and "enlightened ones". Hey, organized religion? I'm an equal-opportunity eschewer!

So, yeah. I don't think I'll be answering that email. No offense.

At any rate, all this leads me to one last question I've been pondering, and maybe those of you who regularly visit here can give me your opinions on it. As you know, in the past I worked as an animal communicator, but I don't anymore. My practice and its results were pretty successful, but I gave it up after being overwhelemed with work and stress, plus going through surgery, which seemed to alter my outlook on a lot of things, somehow. Now that I am applying for jobs in more traditional, AKA scientific or hands-on based animal organizations, I've wondered if I should take down my old AC website in case one of my interviewers Googles me, sees it, and thinks I'm a big crank.

The problem here is partially my own ambivalence about my past practice. At this point, I think of myself as neither a strict believer or non-believer in AC. I cannot deny some of the freakishly accurate readings and results I got in my sessions, things I never would imagine. On the other hand, I know that people tend to believe in things mainly because they want to and it's comforting, and I want neither to deceive others nor myself, even unintentionally. I've also been mentally blocked in terms of AC, and whether that is because I'm anxious and unresolved about it or my anxiety is causing the block, I can't say. Another chicken and egg.

My point being, if I thoroughly believed in AC, I probably wouldn't want to "closet myself" by hiding my past, just to get a job. I'd figure that if the interviewer wasn't open to what I'd done, that job wasn't the right one for me. However, if I truly had given up on bellieving in AC, I'd have taken my damn site down, already, and it wouldn't be an issue. Unfortunately, when it comes to animal behaviourists, advocates and researchers, it's very like religion: you believe in Science or you believe in God (or something spiritual beyond science, at least), and there's little room for anything in-between.

So, what do you think? Take down the old site for now, or leave it up? In the past I've been proud of its design and writing, but now I'm not sure. On the other hand, it's a part of who I've been and am, and it's not like I'm going to be able to erase the Village Voice article on my old career that comes up every time I Google myself. If someone wants to find out what I've been up to, they probably will.

I'll be taking votes and comments. In the meantime, I'll also be making a list of who NOT to blog about, lest they take offense track me down. Can someone confirm the spelling of "Kim Jong-il"?

P.S.: No Thursday Thirteen this week, kiddies. I think this is enough.


Doug said...

I suspect you're sufficiently anonymous as to be safe, but I'm no expert.

And now, I'm hoping I'll get emailed by some of the crushes I've identified in my blog. Sarah Silverman, Cintra Wilson, Jacqueline Kim . . . Call me! Or email me. I'm easy.

Corn Dog said...

If it's out there, they'll find it. But I'm like you, I leave my old sites up. They are a part of me and if the conventional job seekers don't like that part, then they don't like me.

I had a creepy similar experience with a corn dog company, which shall remain nameless, here. As soon as I popped their name onto my site and started a rant about the shipping and storing magnets with their frozen corn dogs, I could see them hitting my site. Spooky. I took the post down and they immediately stopped. My cousin said I should put the post up and down every week or so just to screw with them.

Did I learn my lesson? No. Today, I'm dissing Jimmy Dean's product.

TigerYogi said...

The closest I ever came to experiencing something like that was when I mentioned in a former blog about an old friend who sold Amway. Suddenly I was getting all these Amway distributors commenting and I was even a link on someone's Amway blog! (Shudder!)

Anyway, since the Village Voice article is out there anyway, I say that you might as well leave your site up!

Trish said...

Hey. Here via Balls n' Walnuts. :)
First, I wanna say I'm envious. Only hits I get from searches are on farting stuffed hippos, dogs eating broccoli, and of course "Trish". Everyone wants to look up "Trish". I'm not the famous Trish. I'm the OTHER Trish.

Anyway - I also work at a job agency - so regarding your conundrum.. can't really say unless I saw your old website and decided how much of a "crank" you sounded like to me - but I'd keep it up. If all else fails, you can always claim it's not you, identity theft, or your evil twin.

First Nations said...

it's something you did, you believed in and that worked for WHATEVER reason. leave it up. anyway, you live in New York. Not Lynden. Out here they burn you for that stuff.

well they did up until five years ago.

fine I'm lying.

Heather said...

I say leave it up, too. (Then again, I believe in Science and God...) You believed in it at the time, and if it doesn't get to the "evil twin" stage (tho I do like that idea *eyebrow wiggle*), at the very least it sets you apart and makes you more unique and interesting.

Look at it this way: When I mentioned the AC stuff to my folks, who know you and remember you fondly from back in the day, they were like "Oh, hmmm, that's interesting." Not "Wow, she's flipped out and is a total kook!" or anything. And you know my mom is so not judgemental or anything < /heavy sarcasm >. I say if my mom just thinks of it as something harmless and interesting/amusing, then you're good to go.

Whenever I've googled myself (with married name, as googling my maiden name just brings up page after page of links to a certain adult film star), I get hits for boring, work-related things from my prior-to-being-a-SAHM career and a hit for the CHiPs fan website. Yeah, I'm cool...

Doug said...

Hmm . . . do I have a certain Nator to thank for that recent comment I got from someone purporting to be Cintra Wilson? But how would you fake the email addy?

OTOH, maybe Cintra reads your blog!

claire said...

(Hi - commenting late - sorry)
I don't know. I think i might be alone, here.

I would probably take the website down - at least temporarily. If i were looking for a job, i don't think it would matter to me if my employer shared the same beliefs as i do and it would really bother me if i lost the opportunity to do something really great because of something in my past. Especially if it's somewhat controvertial.
I've had to ask sites to remove my name because of something similar(ish) and i'm glad i did, just to avoid that kind of attention.

If people within that community know you, i think that's great. But i don't think i would want potential employers finding it.

Of course, your name was in an article, so they'll find it anyway. That makes it a little tough...

Hope i didn't offend, here. Cause i totally get it and wouldn't want to say anything out of line.