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Googling oneself goes mainstream

December 24, 2007

by Ivan Raconteur

Several years ago, at a hip little soiree, I was leaning up against a doorjamb enjoying a libation and a morsel of aged cheddar and chatting with an attractive young woman, when she imparted some surprising news.

“I Googled myself last night,” she confided.

Of course I misunderstood.

I had never heard this expression before, but, fortunately, I continued to listen raptly to her story, and soon discovered that what she meant was that she had entered her name in a search engine to see what information about her might be posted online.

Today, it still makes me laugh when a woman talks about Googling herself, but the practice has become much more common, and the term is forever etched on our popular culture.

One can even purchase a T-shirt screened with the message, “I Googled myself last night.” The shirts can be found at VintageCotton.com. They are available in three colors and cost $16.99.

A recent study released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project said 47 percent of adult Internet users in this country have searched for information about themselves using Google or some other search engine.

This is more than double the percentage of people who admitted to self-Googling in 2002.

Those with higher incomes and higher levels of education were more likely to engage in the practice, perhaps because they are the most concerned about their online image.

There is some sense to this trend. Even if we aren’t Googling ourselves, it is likely that other people are. Googling us, that is.

The study showed that 53 percent of those surveyed had looked up information about other people (not including celebrities).

Checking out one’s friends, neighbors, and co-workers is apparently quite common.

The practice is also gaining popularity among employers and organizations who may check out an applicant online before scheduling an interview or choosing to do business with a person.

Not surprisingly, Googling others has also become a part of the dating game.

Men and women Google themselves at about the same rate, but when it comes to dating, women are more likely to Google people they are going out with than men are.

This is probably because as guys, we are so happy when a woman agrees to go out with us that we don’t care about her past or her other activities. She could be a retired axe-murderer for all we care, as long as she is good company and willing to spend time with us.

Women, on the other hand, are always suspicious of guys, no matter how well things are going.

Interestingly, teens are more likely than adults to restrict who can view their profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace.

One would think that the younger people, who have grown up in the digital age, would be more comfortable posting personal information on their profiles. Perhaps they are, but they apparently are also more wary of those who might see their profiles. Maybe these teens actually listened when their parents were lecturing them about the dangers of online predators.

The good news that emerged from all of this self-Googling is that only 4 percent of those interviewed reported finding information that they deemed inaccurate or embarrassing.

It is somewhat reassuring, in view of the mountains of information about all of us that are piling up online, to find that at least for now, most of it seems to be accurate.

In spite of this, it may be a good idea to take a gander at what is posted about us online. According to yourseoplan.com, some privacy experts suggest that we should do so on a regular basis, just so we are aware of what is out there.

If we don’t, we may never know what that hot girl we just met, our potential new employer, or our future mother-in-law might be reading about us.

If photos documenting our exploits during spring break or stories chronicling the indiscretions of our spirited youth are lurking out there on the Internet, they might provide a fun way for us to take a stroll down memory lane, but we may not want our employer to see them.

If we do find inaccurate information, we have a few options.

We can ask the owner of the page that contains the inaccurate information to remove it (assuming we are able to identify and contact this person).

We can ask to have the information corrected or updated.

If these steps don’t work, we can try to minimize the offending information by getting more favorable information about us posted.

The trick is to get the accurate results to come up higher on the search list than the inaccurate ones.

The world is always changing, and we have to adapt to new customs. We need to remember that when people Google themselves, they are simply trying to keep the data along the information superhighway as accurate as possible.

We also need to remember that these days, it is not just Big Brother checking us out online, it is more like “everybody and his brother,” so Googling oneself periodically is not only acceptable, but may be a very wise policy.