I Can’t Stop Googling People
I Google people from my past the way day traders check their stocks. Which is to say, obsessively. I search for childhood friends. I hunt down old teachers. Former coworkers, too — anyone whose name I can remember. Some of them have children or have moved across the country or have started their own businesses. One night before bed, I take out my phone and Google an old college professor who had blazing white curls and a cynical but kind personality — sort of like an edgy Mr. Rogers. Surely, someone like that must have done something fascinating with his life. When I type his name into my phone’s search bar, it appears in a news headline. Local professor falls down a flight of stairs in his townhome and dies. Peering through the window of his front door, friends find him there in the morning. I shut off my phone and slide it under my pillow. Sometimes the things you find online are a chilling reminder of how ordinary tragedy can be. Which makes it all the more chilling.
Our identities are laid bare and condensed into tidy narratives: The story of us.
It’s only natural to Google. It’s strange to see a person every day then never see them again, for no other reason than you graduated or got a new job. What happened to their story when they stepped out of yours? It’s so easy to feed our curiosity in the digital world, where our identities are laid bare and condensed into tidy narratives: The story of us. As Rachel Thompson at Mashable puts it, “The internet can create a false sense of proximity to people, and in my case, I’ve been using it to artificially feel close to the people I’ve lost in life.” I suppose that’s what I’m doing, too.
The first person I ever Googled was my biological father. Growing up, my mom never said much about him, and it seemed hurtful to ask. But I wondered nonetheless. One school night when I should have been asleep for hours, I typed my father’s name into my computer search bar. Crumbs of information appeared: Where he lived, how old he was, his family, people he knew. I wrote down what I found. Over the years, whenever I’d get bored or curious, I’d search for more crumbs. On a random evening, motivated by a heavy buzz, I finally…