Several years ago, when this site was popular enough to garner the occasional mention in photo-related publications, I decided to set up a Google alert for my own name. Silly? Probably. Self-absorbed? Most decidedly. But it was an effortless way to keep an eye on my online image — just in case something I photographed or wrote went inexplicably viral.
While a few posts did unleash some minor epidemics, my natural contrarianism insured none of them graduated into a full-scale pandemic. Eventually, as my popularity waned, the Google alerts became less about me and more about other unfortunate dudes who just happened to share my name.
At this point, had I any sense, I would have cancelled the Google alert. But no. I didn’t. I couldn’t. There’s just something so disturbingly irresistible about getting alerted to news stories that look like they’re about you, but aren’t.
Your name is all over that thing. Someone’s quoting you; arresting you; interviewing you; eulogizing you. Only it’s not you. It’s downright creepy. It’s as if there are parallel universes in which you’re living parallel lives, but thanks to the butterfly effect, your paths have diverged so substantially that only your name links you across worlds.
Recently, for example, one of my namesakes was praised in his city’s local paper for inviting a young boy to sit beside him while he played organ in church — even allowing the child to press a prescribed key at certain times during the performance! It was a news story without even the slightest hint of newsworthiness — the sort of reporting that’s so fluffy it makes dryer lint jealous. And yet I was riveted! Bizarro me, it turns out, is a musician too! And he’s interested in sharing what he knows with others! Attaboy, organ me! Apparently, not every butterfly impacts every event equally.
A couple months ago, I read about another of my doppelnamens who got ticked off, and took a sledgehammer to 12 police cars in a parking lot. Not that I’m condoning this sort of thing, but I must admit to having felt a modicum of pride at getting to “stick it to the man” without actually compromising my own spotless criminal record or moral code. I did, however, find myself somewhat mystified by the fact that my namesake caused only $4900 worth of damage. $4900?! With a parking lot full of cars and a sledgehammer in hand? “The real me,” I thought, “would have easily hammered his way north of $10,000!”
More often than not though, news of my doppelnamens is purely pedestrian and utterly banal. I’ve retired. Or I’ve been appointed chair of some horrifically boring committee. Or I’ve died. I do find the obituaries particularly unsettling — especially when the doppelnamen is the same age as I am.
I’ll be the first to admit that such behavior might just be a teensy-weensy bit voyeuristic. But I figure it’s nowhere near as bad as those people who stalk old friends and lovers on Facebook. At least I’m only creeping on myself… well, sort of…
I wonder though — have my namesakes also enabled Google alerts? And if so, how many of them saw some photograph I’d taken, listened to some song I’d written, or read some twisted essay about folding time or celebrating National Biplane Lady Day, and then panic-called friends and family members to assure them it wasn’t he who was responsible!
Life in the 21st Century. A little to love; a little to loathe… but oh so entertaining.
©2018 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS:
The match between an article and its photos usually occurs through one of two means: either the photos themselves suggest the topic of the article; or the article suggests a particular type of photo. When this second situation occurs, I simply go spelunking through my Lightroom catalog, and then repurpose previously-rejected photos into a new context. But this particular article, in spite of resting squarely within the latter camp, did not involve a descent into Lightroom. Fact is, after staring into a computer monitor since the early 1980’s, I sometimes feel a need to focus my eyes at a distance other than one meter — so I wasn’t overly keen to wade through thousands of photos searching for those in which my own image appeared distorted through abstraction. Instead I went old-skool, picked up a camera and walked out of the house for some fresh content. 60 glorious computer-free minutes later, I returned with three new illustrative shots for the article. Such swashbuckling tactics do violate my self-imposed dictate to let photos gestate for at least 1 year before publishing — but why give yourself rules if you’re not going to break them now and then?