Finding People and Losing Self

My curiosity regarding the current whereabouts of former classmates and coworkers knows no bounds. There are some people I am forever searching for. And in many cases it’s not because I have any particular desire to hang out with them again, or even to talk on the phone. Instead, I have this insatiable desire to know whether people are still alive, whether couples I once knew are still together, whether their are offspring now, and whether people have fattened up, thinned out, or otherwise altered their appearance in some dramatic fashion.

MySpace and Friendster have fed this obsession. Classmates.com, because it costs money to do just about anything on that site, has been useless. But Google, Google has always been my friend. And on Thursday Google turned up someone I never expected to see again, in a place I would never have expected to find them.

The person I found was married to the person I suspected they would be married to. They looked much the same as I expected them to. But they were partaking in a group activity involving a business just down the street from my house (and no, it wasn’t the strip club). That was what blew my mind. This person I’d been wondering about for years, who never turns up anywhere online, had been hanging out within two miles of my house.

It got me thinking about what I’ve written about this person on the site. I’ve written a lot, it turns out. And it got me thinking about whether anything I’d written might be hurtful to the person, or embarrasing, or perhaps even untrue from their point of view. This, in turn, set off a downward spiral of thoughts in my mind, leading me to the conclusion that I should shut down my website for the benefit and betterment of mankind.

It’s a trick thing, this writing about your life. While I don’t believe in changing names to protect the innocent, as I’m not entirely sure anyone on this planet is innocent, I do try not to use last names anymore and to remove last names when I find them in the archives. I try to paint the people I talk about in a positive light if I can, and to balance off any negative stories with positive ones. I never want my site to be the reason that someone doesn’t get a job, or a date, or something else. Whenever I find one of my own pages while searching for someone, I try to update that page to make sure it doesn’t show up in the future, removing, as I said, last names, and other identifying characteristics as I see fit.

But it’s not a perfect science. And some days there are going to be people who find themselves on my site and start to read. And will they like what they find? I don’t know. I’d like to think that they’d just email me and complain if they did, as several people have, but then I think there are people out there who would just stay silent and not say anything, holding a grudge.

And it all got me wondering: what if all this site is good for is inducing embarrassment? Embarrassment of other people? People feeling embarrassed for me because I lay myself so bare? What, if anything, is the point?

Anyway, like I said, it was a downward spiral. It was not pretty. And I’m trying to do better now. But when turning off this site is as simple as two button clicks, it’s sometimes hard to resist the impulse to say “Fuck it” and throw it all away.