Google with care

I’m late. I should’ve been there by now. If I’d’ve left ten minutes ago, I would be. But as I’m running out my office, my boss stops by. I slow my pace and we chat until he gets a call. I dash down the hall in the opposite direction. I’m in my car, speeding up Vine. Does my hair look greasy? Is there lunch in my teeth? I zip into the parking garage and clip-clop to the restaurant. I don’t remember his face from the museum all that well, but eventually it dawns on me that he is probably the man waving at me.We sit down, I apologize for being late, my boss, etc. “I know,” he says. “I know your boss.” Oh? “I know where you work. Good thing it’s close, right?” Time slows. Streeeetches out. Has he already started stalking me? Am I going to have to change my number again? “How do you know all this…?” I ask.

“Easy,” he says. “I Googled you.”

He proceeded to tell me where I grew up, went to college, grad school, and that he liked the glasses I used to wear. Why wasn’t I wearing them now? That would turn out to be the only piece of info I would get to share with him, one of the few parts of my story I could spool out, although “laser eye surgery” isn’t much of a conversation.

I, however, had not Googled him. So for the rest of our evening, I asked the questions and he talked. And talked. And while I felt like I did come to know who he was and where he shopped, I didn’t walk back to my car with the sense that he knew why I’d moved to Silverlake or how I felt about American Idol. That’s exactly why I don’t Google on a first date.

We all Google. But when to Google? Job interview: absolutely. Flattery can be genuine when you discover that your prospective employer wrote one of your favorite episodes of television. After falling out of touch with someone: your college roommate made three independent movies — cool! Your third boyfriend didn’t age well and neither did both of his wives — cool! In one case, information about someone you don’t know is crucial. In the other, you have known the person for years.

To Google someone you don’t know takes all the fun out of the getting-to-know-you rituals. His simple keystrokes into his computer mapquested our night. The conversation didn’t ramble. It took sharp turns, detoured by facts he’d found on the internet. Those facts led to assumptions that had let him already write the story of my life, without much of my input. Where’s this guy’s faith in the “falling” part of falling in love?

Maybe if he hadn’t’ve told me that he’d Googled, we would’ve had more fun. But when he said “I Googled you,” I could literally hear the sound of a Pac-Man dying as the big “Game Over” sign flashed in my head. So I ordered another drink. While he was telling me about the play he had written, about a couple who falls in love only during their divorce proceedings, I started thinking about exactly what kind of relationship you can have with a Google search. Google might be your best girlfriend, telling you things that he can’t, or won’t – the fact that his profile still says “single” when you’ve been dating for three months or that there just so happens to be a child in Wyoming with his eyes and his last name. Google can also be your worst witness. A North Carolina man was found guilty of murdering his wife in November, convicted partly on the circumstantial evidence that he Google-searched the words “neck,” “snap,” “break” and “hold” right before her untimely death.

After several cucumber martinis with The Googler, which still weren’t enough to grease the conversation, I went home and Googled my name. There are a lot of Wendy Wests running amok in the world. There’s the painter in Toronto, the photographer in Florida, an animated “Wild West Wendy” who is the star of an eponymous video game, the counselor in Scottsdale, GA, the 7th and 8th grade math teacher in Gorman, TX, home of the mighty Gorman Tigers, and the jewelry designer right here in Southern California, which explains a lot of cool mailings I now realize I’ve gotten by mistake.

Another Wendy

But easily, my favorite Wendy West lives in Blanchester, OH. She is the mother of triplets and is into scrapbooking big time. “I have been scrapping for about 4 years,” she says. “I like organizing crops and going to different crops at the different stores around town.” I emailed her to find out what that meant. “A crop is when a bunch of people get together to scrapbook.” I wondered how this Wendy West’s life was going. She seems very content, very happy, and while on the surface, completely different from me, underneath, maybe not so much. “I am 37 but act 25,” she writes, “if my ‘Vote for Pedro’ and my brown and pink vans are any indication.”

I love movies about doppelgangers: “Sliding Doors,” “La Double Vie de Veronique,” “Strangers on a Train.” To imagine someone living another life under your name is to live that life vicariously, to travel across the country, to make different choices, to erase certain regrets. You can also create your own alter ego. Aliases allow you to live your own double life on the Internet, allowing you to, say, serve up sex advice assured a Google search will never link that advice back to you.

For Wendy West: Ohio — her passion is preserving memories, memories that are on paper and not on the Internet. Each of her children has a book for each year of his or her life, narratives preserved as they are lived, stories they will get to tell — however they choose — to a blind date, who will have the pleasure of hearing them for the first time.

8 responses to “Google with care”

  1. PB says:

    Great post!! It made me think (huge accomplishment on Monday morning)–would you really have had more fun if he hadn’t had admitted to googling? I wonder if the most interesting part of progress is that no matter how sci fi the gadgets–the same old human stuff keeps leaking through. My guess is that boorish, egocentric dates-from-hell would be annoying no matter what homework they did and obviously you would have appreciated making a connection with a really lovely woman with your same name in Ohio whether live or electronically. It seems technology merely magnifies whatever social skills (or lack there of) we have to begin with–and I suppose gives us more material to drive the point home.

  2. wendy–

    you beat me to the punch, but since you took my shift this morning, i don’t mind a bit. i had been trying to think about how to contextualize my own bizarre auto-google encounter with another Bryan Waterman, same spelling even. This guy’s a cartoonist based in Boston, younger than I am, and with disappointing taste in music. He doesn’t look much like me (he’s the one in yellow; he looks a little like my dad), but his self-named cartoon protagonist kinda does, except for his frat-boy taste in facial hair. I’ve never been bold enough to contact the guy. He used to have a MySpace page that declared he was “not THAT Bryan Waterman” or something, and I always wondered — was he differentiating himself from me?

    I guess having a video vixen sharing your name is a little cooler than having a cartoon character. Have you ever played said game?

    nice to have you here. bw

    p.s. Did I ever tell you my best friend growing up had an older sister named Wendy West?

  3. Mikelle F says:

    Nicely put, WW. Googling is inevitable, but the question is when, and I think you’ve got it exactly right.

    My favorite line from this post is “His simple keystrokes into his computer mapquested our night.” While that’s bad, it’s not even the worst part… The worst part is that he was probably proud of himself for showing interest and “doing his homework.” He’s probably still completely baffled about why you didn’t call back.

  4. Eric Jones says:

    I admit–I’ve googled a date or two, or four or five. But never before a first, or even fifth, date. Still, I’ve never done that deed without feeling a little dirty, slightly creepy. Should I stop feeling skulky about these past deeds? Should I accept that googling acquaintances–mere acquaintances–is a step into the 21st c.? (Granted, it’s an appropriate, even expected, step before something so portentious as a job interview … ) But am I wrong in thinking/feeling that googling someone I’m currently interested in is sort of, yes, like stalking, like peering in their bedroom window? eek! icky! For rude!

  5. Stephanie Wells says:

    Isn’t it creepy to think, Wendy, that if your blind date is such a googlestalker, he’s probably already read your post by now and internalized some of your criticisms? I hope you changed some of the identifying details! (the topic of his play, the flavor of the martinis?)

  6. WW says:

    Stephanie, hopefully he’s moved on to bigger and better dates and if he is Googling, hopefully he’s keeping it close to his vest.

    BW, I have never played the video game but do have a pair of cowboy boots alarmingly similar to the video vixen’s. Any idea what your best pal’s sister is up to these days? If she got married, did she change her name?

  7. are you the ww who’s having a bday today? if so, cheers —


  8. WW says:

    i first read your comment as “are you the ww having a baby today” and thought, no, not that I know of… thanks for the good wishes. air kisses!