MY WEBUTATION: An Essay of Musings on My Virtual Life*

When I read that author Elizabeth Gilbert never googles her name, I had to ponder. My reaction was surprise, since I google my name at least every couple of weeks. I used to google it daily. Often, to verify that a blog or forum post had shown up in cyberspace. But just as often, it was to see my name.

At a glance, all this googling seems a form of net narcissism. But, bear with me: I had sound reasons.

I first began my name-searching, like most people, out of curiosity. I wanted to know what information about me was floating in cyberspace. I wanted to discover my webutation.

At once, I was mesmerized. The kaleidoscope I ogled through as a young girl had now morphed into my computer monitor. My mom had bought our family's first Apple computer years ago, and that kaleidoscopic beige box had opened a world of infinite information. I marveled at this brave new cyber-world, as I wandered from website to website, searching everything.

Over the years, I've read a multitude of articles online, with accompanying photos. Articles, for instance, on conjoined twins, various lunar and solar eclipses, a harvest moon, a blue moon, a couple of new planets, the oldest living man, a two-headed baby, an old woman pregnant with a 'stone' fetus, two families in Spain whose children were exchanged at birth, Manhattanhenge and celebrants at Stonehenge, the Rainbow Mountains and a scarlet river in China, the beaches of Tahiti, a midnight sun in Scandinavia, an ice igloo, an underwater hotel, and a multiplicity of whales, alligators, giraffes, and elephants. Also, pink flamingos on a South American river, grey koala bears in Australia, green turtles on the Galapagos islands.

Add to that, a few hundred how-to articles on every topic imaginable. How to put files on a blank CD. How to take an online course. How to pay for grad school. How to clean your computer.

Eventually, I read an online article on how important it is to guard your webutation. In doing so, you prevent identity theft. You also prevent misinformation, as employers or potential employers, family, friends and frenemies troll the web for information about you.

That article was validation of sorts.

I then began the little exercise of googling my name.

Besotted, I discovered a few things about it. First, between 90 and 136 women in the US are named "Yolanda Reid." So my name is not as unique as I thought. Second, my surname means "red," since a couple of distant ancestors were Scottish and had red hair. Third, Yolanda means "violet."

In addition, I discovered that searching—or googling—has changed me, albeit subtly. New aspects to my character have emerged.

For instance, I'm impatient now for results—even if they take .614 seconds to generate, say, 3 million results. If results will take as long as fifteen seconds, I sign off and click on something else. My expectation is for instantaneity. A quarter-minute is way too long to wait. And one minute seems an eternity.

If I'm realistic and ask myself, When have search results ever taken fifteen seconds to manifest themselves? I have to answer, Never. Internet time is in milliseconds. My secondary web browser takes as long as two minutes or more to upload webpages. That is why I stopped using it.

Now I always research people and products. Whether I'm buying a book, a computer or a water heater, I'll research it first. I take a look at people's Facebook or Twitter page, if they have one. I check out celebrity gossip, obviously. And I read news stories from a handful of e-newspapers, to the point that some days I consider myself over-informed.

Moreover, I've tried to get on as many platforms as humanly possible. I have a website, a blog and a Twitter account. I'm also on Goodreads.

The blog is a must, but for a long time, I avoided Twitter. The reason? I noticed that people tended to get into mini-scandals from their tweets. From celebrities to ordinary netizens. As it happens, 140 characters can be powerful.

But all the how-to articles I read on the uses of social media stated that a Twitter account was essential for an author. How to connect with readers. How to create a persona online. How to . . . . On a whim, I gingerly decided to enter the Twittersphere. So far I've tweeted about books, writing and authors. Literature ad infinitum. Very writerly. As if I were leading a virtual seminar.

I've kept my revelations modest, and professional. No scandal here. On forums, I try to maintain a dual stance—friendly yet not too friendly, for fear of engaging with an e-stalker. And I've discovered that everything you post turns up in the search engines, sooner or later. Mostly sooner: between two days and a couple of weeks. Today I can even view posts of mine from ten years ago.

The internet is, at once, evanescent and ever-present. My words float on in cyberspace. The virtual frontier.

Not surprisingly, I'm more concerned with my webutation now than ever before. Moreover, all this cyber-information has changed how some people perceive me—including a few family members. I get a little bit of the recognition I crave. And the world seems to validate me. Thanks to the internet gods.

But the reality is that I haven't changed all that much: I've always written, even as a child. I've always drawn and loved art. I've always loved reading and books. I was a gifted child and creative teen. My personality has not changed all that much. Now, however, all this information is available online for anyone who wants to know. From my interests to my favorite books, to what my childhood was like.

And I, myself, am more informed than ever.

On occasion, I've searched for a quote by Shakespeare. Once, at my father's urging. He wanted to know the quote's exact wording and what play or poem it came from. As I recall, it was a Saturday. I put off the word-hunt for a couple of hours. Then I logged on. Within a few minutes, I'd found the answer. I've also hunted down song-lyrics, most memorably a Destiny's Child song, "I'm a survivor." I searched out the poems of Chinese poet Tzu-chimo. I verified

the year Dylan Thomas was born. When I first endeavored to learn Chinese, I found a website that gives free lessons.

Whenever I discover a new book or author, I get online and search for more info. Alice Munro the week she won the Nobel Prize. An article by author Natasha Pang-Mei Chang. The weirdly fascinating writings of Karen Russell. Author Taylor Jenkins Reid—of whom I was curious to know if we are related. Or an interview with novelist Darcie Chan.

So as I voyage in cyberspace, I engage in a virtual meditation of sorts. I—and millions of other people—can posit these two ideas, simultaneously, about the entire experience: I am online, therefore I exist. And, I search therefore I am.

*This essay is available in audiobook format at .

Copyright © 2017 by Y. A. Reid