I have a friend who wants to streamline his online image for professional reasons. He wants to deal with the Facebook photos which other people obligingly took, posted, and tagged with his name without asking. He wants make sure that nothing weird comes up when you google him, either correctly (some detail he would rather not remain permanently public) or incorrectly (some detail that is falsely associated with him).
Depending on how common your name is, you will be familiar with the experience: you google yourself, and up come the other people with your name. If you have a common name, then you have the comfort of the crowd; but then you have the problem of having any Web presence at all (assuming you want one).
But since my friend has an unusual name, for a long time googling him only brought up results about him. As the Web's reach deepened, another person appeared online with his name.
"He keeps taking these fuzzy photos of himself in the middle distance," my friend said to me, "and they look sort of like me. If you hadn't seen me in a long time, they could be me. He looks like a younger version of me."
"And he keeps making these Youtube videos of himself, stripping in bars. If you have a moment, can you please look on Youtube? Just type my name in the search box on Youtube, and his videos will come up. See if he looks like me?"
This is now a common problem. The Wall Street Journal wrote a piece about it this past summer, entitled, Meet Your Digital Doppelgänger, on how people often receive E-mail messages intended for others with the same name. In 2010, Tech Republic asked on the same topic, Is your online doppelganger a plus or a minus?:
Lately I've been writing a lot about online reputations and how they can affect your career. I've suggested that people Google themselves to see what prospective employers might see. Many people who did this reported finding others with their same name. This can be problematic if the person with your name happens to be, oh I don't know, in the porn industry or is on a Jersey-based reality show.
Having a doppelgänger used to be the stuff of noir and mysteries, like Body Heat (1981), or Twin Peaks (1990-1991), or The Double Life of Véronique (1991). Now it is an every day, pedestrian problem; yet it has much more surreal implications than any noir could intend. Far beyond the loss of privacy, we can no longer control information which could, and will, be incorrectly associated with us. We cannot control or contain our online selves (see my earlier post on this). More oddly, our online selves become amalgams of information from different people, agents and sources. Not only has accuracy gone out the window: so has personal identity associated with one individual.I kind of got lucky in that respect. My online doppelganger, who actually shows up before me in a Google search, is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania with a list of scholarly writings that is longer than my leg. One is called The Achievement of Scholarly Authority for Women: Trends in the Interpretation of Eighteenth-Century Fiction. (Compare that to one of my writings, Five signs that your layoff-spared job sucks, and I think you can see how I wouldn't object if anyone mixed us up.)
The situation is analogous to Stephen King's definition of the mounting dread associated with terror, which is different from horror:
"Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute."
Still from Twin Peaks. Image Source: Death and Taxes.
There are rumours that the Twin Peaks series may be revived and continued, a reboot which even David Lynch has considered. If you haven't seen the original series, Sweet Lemon tells you to see it now on Netflix. Twin Peaks was all about mirror images, duplicates, and White and Black Lodges. Here is a memorable speech from the evil character Windom Earle:
Once upon a time, there was a place of great goodness, called the White Lodge. Gentle fawns gamboled there amidst happy, laughing spirits. The sounds of innocence and joy filled the air. And when it rained, it rained sweet nectar that infused one's heart with a desire to live life in truth and beauty. Generally speaking, a ghastly place, reeking of virtue's sour smell. Engorged with the whispered prayers of kneeling mothers, mewling newborns, and fools, young and old, compelled to do good without reason ... But, I am happy to point out that our story does not end in this wretched place of saccharine excess. For there's another place, its opposite: A place of almost unimaginable power, chock full of dark forces and vicious secrets. No prayers dare enter this frightful maw. The spirits there care not for good deeds or priestly invocations, they're as likely to rip the flesh from your bone as greet you with a happy "good day." And if harnessed, these spirits in this hidden land of unmuffled screams and broken hearts would offer up a power so vast that its bearer might reorder the Earth itself to his liking.
Native American policeman Deputy Hawk says that the Black Lodge is from the mythology of his people, describing it as:
With this possible series return, it looks like the '80s-'90s fascination with doppelgangers has come full circle, and for a very good reason.the shadow-self of the White Lodge. The legend says that every spirit must pass through there on the way to perfection. There, you will meet your own shadow self. My people call it 'The Dweller on the Threshold' ... But it is said, if you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage, it will utterly annihilate your soul.