Everybody does it, they just don't talk about it. It's natural, but it's a dirty little secret people like to keep to themselves. Even those of us who say they aren't curious know that the urge is there, and sooner or later, they succumb. We wait until our privacy is assured and we won't be interrupted, then we surrender to our yearnings and do it. We Google ourselves.
I'm guilty, too. But ever since I began posting online, and the Memphis Flyer has been printing my articles, I've gotten all Googled up and, like B.B. King says, "The Thrill Is Gone," or perhaps just de-glossed. But the first time I Googled myself, my throat constricted and my face froze. After I had typed in my name and pressed "enter," the first headline that came up said, "Dead in Memphis 6-19-70." For a moment, I thought I was living in an alternate universe until I read the article. It was from a 1995 Flyer story about the Grateful Dead coming to Memphis, and the reporter contacted me about attending a Dead concert in the Mid-South Coliseum in 1970, where they bombed. At that Vietnam-era show, it looked like every sailor in Millington had come to see the Grateful Dead, and they all just sat there. Several other hippies and I hung around afterward to offer our condolences to the band and apologize that our city wasn't more receptive. Phil Lesh told me that "Memphis is the most soul-less city we've ever played." Ah, the good old days.
After I realized that it wasn't me who was dead, there were several other Google "hits" referencing my 1960s garage rock band with links and listings about Sun Records. I discovered that our 1965 Sun single was selling online for $65, which indirectly led to a full compilation by Ace Records. I was also amazed to learn from Google that I was a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Jackson, Tennessee. I suppose admittance is granted to anyone who ever released a record on the Sun label, which, after the "Million Dollar Quartet," includes a long list of my fellow unknowns. Although the Radiants came along 10 years after rockabilly, a term that Sam Phillips hated, I was honored by the association. If they're still in the planning stages for our induction ceremony, however, they'd better hurry. Nobody's getting any younger.
My last name is uncommon, and Google introduced me to a slew of prospective relatives, from jocks to doctors and even actors who play doctors. It turns out there are Haspels all over the place. I know for certain that some are unknown cousins, because someone has to be making those seersucker suits. I wonder if, when they Google themselves, they wonder who in the hell I am. Seeing all that potential kin is interesting but not enough for me to try and contact anyone. In this climate, they'd probably just hit me up for money, and who needs that aggravation? I have other cousins whom I actually like. Why ask for trouble?
It was likewise frightening the first time I typed in my name and clicked on Google "images." I expected to see an aging guy with a disheveled white beard, like my driver's license photo, but the first picture that came up was Osama bin Laden. Now my paranoia was confirmed. I had been scooped up in the Bush administration's dragnet and the NSA was monitoring my computer activity. I had used too many of the Echelon project "code words," and now they were lumping me in with al-Qaeda. I was hesitant to even click on the picture, thinking that a giant eye would appear on the screen and order me to the courthouse to receive my bar-code, but it turned out to be just a picture from the Flyer from an issue in which I had an article.
I enjoyed Google's reaffirming my identity for a time. Having online references about yourself is a little like a droplet of immortality, at least until the next technology comes along. But things have changed and Google is not as kind to me as it once was. It seems writing for the Flyer is a mixed blessing. I enjoy having my thoughts and opinions considered by a wider audience, and the Flyer pays me for my work, but it also brought me out of my tiny, blog bubble and greater access has invited more criticism. As a songwriter in Nashville, I used to eat criticism on my cereal for breakfast and developed a weatherproof leathery hide. I've been disappointed more times than a Manson woman at a parole hearing, but when the criticism is printed, that goes up on Google as well. Now, just after a music site that says my singing voice is "interesting," there's a reader's comment that says I'm "ignorant." After such a blissful spell of happy Google searching, I have lost control over my cyber identity, and with each published article, the number of people who consider me an idiot has grown.
So, I've had to give up Googling myself. It felt good for a while but I needed to stop. I was beginning to go blind and hair was growing on my keyboard. Every now and then I'll check to make sure I still exist, but my self-Googling desire has diminished. It was once a gentle ego massage to see my name on the World Wide Web, but it's not as thrilling when your name is followed by the word "fool." Googling is such a tough habit to break, it should have its own 12-step program. "My name is Randy and I'm a self-Googler." Although I haven't given it up completely, I'll stop cold turkey before I let that damn Google start calling me names. That's when it ceases to be self-gratification and becomes something more akin to masturbating with steel wool. It just feels so good when you stop.
Randy Haspel writes the blog"Born-Again Hippies," where a version of this column first appeared.