Netflix shattered my sense of self a few weeks ago. It’s the nature of technological advances these days, and I should probably get used to everything I thought I once knew being undercut by the series of 0s and 1s that rule my life.
For many of us, it was Google that started this assault. We were bopping along through life, feeling all one-of-a-kind and uniquely us, and then a search engine came along and said it wasn’t so. I’m not the only Ericka Taylor in the world. I’m not the only black Ericka Taylor. I’m not even the only black Ericka Taylor with dreadlocks. Fortunately, that kind of realization is only briefly off-putting. After all, what’s in a name if you’re not a Capulet or Montague? The fact that an Ericka Denise Taylor who isn’t me resides in Florida doesn’t exactly bring on an existential crisis. Our names are, in the end, just identification markers, not things that define us. I’m betting that even someone whose name is truly exceptional, say Umberkrunktil, has at times been more annoyed by her name’s distinctiveness than she has reveled in it.
That’s because, in the end, we all want to be special, but only to a degree. We’re a social species, and fitting in matters because it’s at the core of community. When you do a Google search for “hot tub, armpit” and the next term you were going to enter—“soreness”—pops up automatically, you feel better. Not only can you now avoid scheduling a doctor’s appointment, but you’ve gotten affirmation that it’s not just you.
For me, the scariest part of 1993’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is when Meg Tilly’s (snatched) character says, “Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide? Nowhere. ‘Cause there’s no one like you left.” Those lines have stuck in my head for 20 years because the sense of being absolutely alone, of having no one who can relate to you in any meaningful way, is kind of a freaky concept. So, I’m at peace with the fact that Google’s predictive searching reaffirms that I am but one of many. Read more »