Googling yourself

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Recently commentator Caleb Daniloff made the leap from reality to cyber space, trying not to get lost in translation.

(Daniloff) At a wedding last year, an old friend I hadn’t seen in years said she’d Googled me and got some hits, said I should check it out. I smiled, feigning disinterest. Truth was, I’d been Googling myself for some time, checking periodically for any fluctuations in my search results.

My listing comprised a blurb from the back pages of an alumni magazine and a handful of articles from my early journalism career, not all of it my finest work. Recent freelance pieces would appear, but often in circuitous ways – as a reference in somebody’s graduate thesis, or a mention on a blog.

It was a crude representation, but I got a charge at seeing myself the way the world saw me. When I later read an interview with an editor who said he Googled the authors of pitch letters, I starting paying closer attention to my looks.

Pieces appeared, and disappeared. Odd listings semi-related to my name showed up, a sprinkling of Calebs and Daniloffs within athletic scores and vital records, my bold-faced name split in two like a magician’s assistant.

I feared I was starting to come off scrawny and disfigured. Perhaps a “www” before my name would give me the Charles Atlas physique I was seeking. I got in touch with a local web designer. Together, we would beat back the sand-kicking bully and get the girl, or at least the writing gig.

There were, of course, practical reasons to build a website. As a freelancer, I’d spend hours clipping articles, and attaching them to sheets of paper, cursing the inevitable inky fingerprints trapped in the tape. Now, all I d have to do is email my URL.

As soon as I bought my domain name though, I froze. Identity issues I’d left behind years ago resurfaced. Who was I? What tone should I take? I questioned whether a website would actually help my writing pursuits. Was someone really going to roll down their limousine window and point a come-hither finger at my cyber self? For months, I walked around like an edgy teenager, obsessed with myself and pricked with doubt.

But since I had to pay a year in advance for the site, I had little choice but to forge ahead. My patient designer, John, guided me through the set-up process and created pages. I sent him reams of articles and images to upload which I later asked him to remove, then put back up again. I stitched myself together with abandon, both Dr. Frankenstein and the monster.

In the end, I went with old fashioned images for page headings — a manual typewriter, a table-top radio, a quill pen. I saw them as anchors to reality. I posted a single photo of myself — a 14-year-old walking along a crumbling wall in rural Russia. It captured a period when life was most poignant, most un-computer-like.

Finally, after much stalling, I went live earlier this month. Typing in my domain name for the first time produced anxiety akin to public speaking. Virtual self, virtual fears.

And though I told John weeks ago I thought the site complete, I continue to tweak. For in the end, a personal Web site is like the self always evolving, sloughing off the old, incorporating the new. I realize I must accept my Web site as I accept myself. There’s always room for improvement.

This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.

Caleb Daniloff is a copywriter and freelance journalist.

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