Ah, the wonders of the World Wide Web. Who among us – while sitting before the computer – has not been seized with the sudden desire to type our own name into a search engine to see what the results would be? Perhaps we harbor a hidden desire that our name will repeatedly flash upon the screen in a magnificent shrine of blue text; thus confirming our suspicion that we are much more famous than we had previously believed. Or maybe we are plagued with a persistent paranoia that some acquaintance of ours has posted a particularly malicious comment about us on a personal blog (complete with embarrassing photos). Whatever our motivation, I am sure that most of us have succumbed to the temptation of trying to find our name somewhere on the web. At least I know that I have. In fact, I just did the other night.
“Joshua Johnson”. I entered my name into the search engine making sure to enclose it with quotation marks so that only those exact words would be queried. In a moment my monitor was filled with hundreds of references to web pages that contained my name (235 to be exact). I must confess, however, that I was quite disappointed with the initial fact that none of these names apparently referred to me.
There were a great many lawyers, which makes me wonder if men named “Joshua” have an uncommon proclivity towards the legal profession or if men from the legal profession just enjoy placing their names on the internet. There are also quite a few college students who share my name on the web. This, again, causes me to wonder why I – being a college student – have not found myself among the references. Perhaps I have not achieved the level of notoriety that is required to be considered worthy of a search engine’s recognition. Or maybe I just need to join an athletic team at my school (frisbee golf appears to be the recreation of choice as far as “searchability” is concerned).
Scattered among the lawyers and college students that are my namesakes were several obituaries. It is an eerie thing to see your name in an obituary. While the life that is being eulogized is quite different from my own in its personality and achievements, there is still a strange feeling that occurs when I read a sentence that starts with, “In memory of Joshua Johnson…” or “Joshua Johnson dies at age…” It makes me contemplate my own mortality as I consider the possibility that another Joshua Johnson could have been reading my obituary tonight.
Indeed, I see a great deal of possibility as I scan through the electronic references that bear my name. All of the contingencies of life swirl before my eyes as I see soldiers, firemen, teachers, and construction workers – all who are as different from one another as I am from each of them – yet all sharing in that most important of identifiers: our name. I wonder what circumstances guided the destinies of these men; what circumstances have guided my own life?
I feel small as I see that christening which was given to me by my parents – that verbal tag that I have clung so tenaciously to as my own – scattered and stamped upon thousands of other men. I am compelled to wonder along with Shakespeare’s Juliet, “What’s in a name?” What is it about this combination of letters and syllables that causes my ears to perk up if I overhear them in a neighboring conversation? Why is it that I feel so strange when I read of the life and death of a complete stranger who shares nothing with me but a title?
There I sat, my face illuminated by the glow of my computer’s monitor, staring at the interpretation of my own name in a hundred different lives; confronted by my anonymity, my mortality, my identity. It’s amazing what you can learn on the internet.