I Am Not Dead October 7, 2012Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
Tags: google, Internet search
That’s a strange thing to say, but the question has been coming up this summer and into the fall. The reason is Google. I occasionally google myself (it is a verb now, right?) to see where I might appear, and since about June the Peter Varhol obituary has been trending toward the top of the results. The fact that it seems to be that of an 83-year old person in Minnesota (I am about 30 years younger, and live in New Hampshire).
All of this is thanks to Google, which lists sites that claim there are a total of six people by my name in the US, including my father, who died in 1994 (he’s the one in Pennsylvania, FYI). Beyond the other deceased fellow, there seem to be identically named men in Texas (owner of a septic installation company; read into that what you will), Connecticut, and Illinois. Other than my father, I have never met any of them, and have no idea whether or not we are related.
And, by the way, I am not on Facebook, and will not be on Facebook, lest a future employer demand the password to my (nonexistent) Facebook account. There is a Peter Varhol in Brno, Czech Republic, who is originally from Bratislava, Slovakia (where at least one side of my family can be definitively traced to). He seems to be prominent on Facebook. He may actually be a distant relative; there is a resemblance, but I can’t tell if it’s family, or ethnic. If you search for Peter Varhol, Google will return Facebook profiles, none of which are mine.
The ability to find out things about me that are, well, not about me has implications to my life and all of our lives. Even if we don’t have a common name (I don’t think I do), we may find that employers or potential employers look for us on the Internet, and think that we are somebody we are not. If we are interviewing for a job, we may not even get a chance to say that we aren’t the person their search returned.
But it’s broader than that. Those people in our lives may think we are someone that we are not, based on a Google (or Bing, or Yahoo) search. That may affect how people around us think of us, and how they interact with us in the future. A potential new friend may find someone with the same name who has a criminal complaint for stalking, for example.
I don’t know if there is a solution to this, and I don’t know how often it is an issue. In general I believe that more information is better than less. But I have heard from old friends or colleagues asking if I were in fact dead (if I don’t answer, does that lead to the default conclusions?), and I would prefer not to receive such queries.