Let's play a game. It's called "What Does the Internet Think of You?"
This is the digital age, after all, where every speck of information about us is scanned and uploaded to humanity's attic, where those embarrassing pictures of your "hip-hop phase" are hopefully dropped into an obscure box behind a Nordic Track and some Pogs, never to be seen again. But hey, at least you know enough to be ashamed of that stuff: There's a wealth of associated information out there painting a terrible picture of you right now, and you may have no idea. So let's take a poke around at the sites we use daily and find out what they really have to say about us.
The game is simple: Take any online service that you use frequently -- suggested products, custom ad services, mail filters, bank accounts, whatever -- and mentally subtract the context that only you would know. What would a total stranger, looking at those same results, assume about the person they're based on?
That's what the Internet thinks of you.
This is probably not going to be pretty.
#4. Google Image Search Thinks I'm a Sexual Predator
Let's start off with an easy one: Head on over to Google Image Search and look up your name in quotes. If you've got an unusual moniker, like "Llarold Blarney" or "Slapdick McRunfast," you're probably going to find a lot of pictures of yourself and not much else, so feel free to remove those quote marks.
Now, what do you see right there at the top of the page? My results are pretty intuitive:
There's a photo of my mustache mastering fire, the cover of my first book and Van Damme exploding a crotch. Pretty good! If I had only three images to explain the mystery that is Brockway to new friends and potential marks, I would probably choose the same pictures.
But wait, what's that picture, just a few results from the left? The one where the question mark is now (our lawyers said I couldn't show the actual image, but you'll know when you see him. He'll live forever in the space where your childhood dreams used to be). Who the fuck is that? Dude looks like he raped his way through a van full of other, lesser rapists. And there he is, just slipped right in, immediately following a string of pictures of my shining visage. Why?
There's context, of course: This is just some poor schmuck's mugshot from a DUI arrest in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. But his inclusion here really screws me. Listen, I have a lot of facial accessories -- the beard, the glasses, sometimes a hat -- for a reason: I want to be hard to identify in a lineup. It's a brilliant social strategy most days, but now it's biting me in the ass. Because, man, that guy could almost be me, couldn't he? If you didn't know me personally, you see "haggard white guy, facial hair and glasses" and you mentally fill in the blanks to build yourself a Brockway. So if somebody goes searching my name, they see: profile picture of me, profile picture of me, profile picture of me, then a mugshot of what appears to be the victor of the great biannual Survival of the Rapest Competition.
I'm not upset that somebody might think that I'm a criminal -- these columns are viewable by the public, after all; I've pretty well superglued that shit to the zeitgeist. I guess I'm just distressed because it implies that I can be caught.
Ah, but the game's not over. The top results are easy. Now scroll to the bottom of that page, and find out what the Internet really associates with the idea of you. The bottom of a GIS page is like the Internet's Rorschach test, where it shouts out obscenities based on the little human inkblots it sees up top. What did you end up with? Because I'll tell you: Mine's some bullshit.
I've got a lot of goth imagery, a couple of Twilight screen caps and a movie called Little Ashes, which IMDb tells me is about Salvador Dali exploring forbidden man-love in college.
I'm not sure, but I think the abstract concept of the Internet just called me a "fag."
#3. Netflix Thinks I Should Stop Repressing My Homosexuality
Oh hey! All right. This isn't too bad. Those are all shows I enjoy and endorse. Good job, Netflix, you're making me look like a veritable connoisseur of nerdery. OK, let's just scroll down a little bit to the "based on your search" section:
That's a hell of a narrative unfolding in just a few movie posters. It looks like I spent Saturday night indulging my "sensitive" side a little with a viewing of She's All That, then grew wildly insecure about it and overcompensated by watching a bunch of manly sports movies and Captain America. Then, emboldened by a renewed confidence in my own sexuality and stirred by the rippling pecs of Chris Evans, I went HARD GAY and watched every single homosexual-themed flick available trying to find the closest thing to dudes humpin' that Netflix had to offer.
Again, it doesn't matter that I know the context and have a perfectly reasonable explanation: The sports movies are in response to me adding a motorcycle documentary (On Any Sunday is not a sports movie, guys), and I share a queue with my wife, who, like all women, finds transvestites irresistible, and fanatically devoured every episode of RuPaul's Drag Race and something called Paris Is Burning, so that's what all the gay porn is doi-
Shit, even I don't believe me.