Searching for the traces of oneself on the Internet is such an immanent practice for its users that the term“egosurfing”, describing possibly the earliest form of what we currently refer to as “oogling” oneself, dates all the way back to 1996. But, of course, googling oneself is only that, one person looking for what the search engine of record says about them in order to measure their own sense of self-worth against it. However, what is by nature a much greater possibility is someone else googling you. And herein is where the true anxiety of the egosurfer lies.
A personal example: I have a very common name. Not quite “John Smith” common but common enough. When I was growing up, my doctor’s office had another Andrew McKinney that was my age and the nurses in the office would often get confused as to why I was in again even though I had just visited last week. As I got older and the Internet availed me of the chance, I discovered a few more Andrew McKinneys out there, one a prominent postcard photographer, another the 3rd or 4th bass player (accounts vary) of the southern rock band Molly Hatchet. But I was generally unconcerned with this until “egosurfing” about three years ago. After years of adding my middle initial to various email and social media accounts in a vague attempts to differentiate myself, I googled “Andrew G McKinney.” To my dismay, the top hit was a man of my height, approximate weight, and hair color from Oklahoma who had a 3 page long criminal record. I felt a curious combination of panic and deep amusement (I have an odd sense of humor, what can I say), but came away with my ego mildly bruised and a resolve to do something about it.
What I did was not very interesting or revelatory, but it was effective. I blogged on the CUNY Academic Commons. I used my Twitter account relatively vigorously. Nothing particularly special. But now a Google search for “Andrew G McKinney” brings up my work on the GC Digital Fellows blog first and even a search sans the middle initial shows me near the top.
In the workshops we run as Digital Fellows I regularly tell this story to drive one very particular point home: your digital identity might seem out of your hands. It might seem like your evil dopplegangers are out there just trying to keep you from getting the job that you want. Do not fret, you can take the reins with only a modicum of training. I’m no techno-utopian who believes that whatever Web x.0 we’re on gives us total control and boundless creativity at our fingertips, but gaining control over the front page of your Google results by blogging and tweeting even the simplest of content does at least give you the boost to your egos that you may or may not need.