Sunday, October 14, 2007

Gaze of the googleganger

"Tim Connor, Speaker, Trainer, Author"

The Tim Connor pictured above is not me; he's my googleganger.

Googleganger is a term I 1st heard on Amy Stein's blog , but it turns out web types have been using it for years (there is even a Newsweek article about it). The word is defined at as "another person of the same name, whose records are intermixed with your own when you 'google' yourself." Since this definition requires knowledge of another newly-created internet word (the verb "google"), it is of course only comprehensible to someone who already understands that "googling yourself" is not a geekish masturbation technique.

Still, cybercitizens may not know the German word, "doppleganger, " onto which the new meaning is spliced. Coined at a time when superstition still trumped science in most of Europe, a doppelganger is "...a ghostly double of a living person." Wikipedia adds that a doppelganger is... " literally a 'double walker'... someone who is walking the same way as another person does. The word is also used to describe the sensation of having glimpsed oneself in peripheral vision, in a position where there is no chance that it could have been a reflection. They [doppelgangers] are generally regarded as harbingers of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person's friends or relatives portends illness or danger, while seeing one's own doppelgänger is an omen of death."

As a teenager I was fascinated by the idea of the doppelganger. I fantasized about glimpsing my double. I thought it would be thrilling & terrifying. In some coldly beautiful city I would suddenly see my other, beckoning me into the deeper shadows as in a Fritz Lang movie. I would follow willingly. I wanted to become my doppelganger, to embody myself & the other at the same time. I wrote a story about seeing my doppelganger at rush hour on the NY subway. He was Puerto Rican. He didn't see me. My brown-skinned doppelganger got off the train at Times Square before I could speak to him. I chased after him, but he disappeared in the crowd.

It occurs to me that searching for the doppelganger might be a decent metaphor for more than just teenage narcissism. In fact, it works pretty well for photography -- for art of any kind. But searching for the googleganger, what kind of metaphor is that? More of a joke, I'm afraid. Still, coming upon the actual image of my googleganger, the "other" Tim Connor, made him intensely real to me. I felt in some way I already knew him. I had gone to school & played sports & ridden around in cars with him. I knew his voice & his drunken laugh. I had tolerated him & he had tolerated me.

"Tim Connor"

When I saw my googleganger's updated picture, I felt this familiarity even more strongly. I guessed the picture was taken at least five years ago, probably more. In it my googleganger is noticeably older; he dies his hair to hide his age. He keeps himself fit, is extremely well-groomed & carefully dressed, smoother in every respect. His biography claims that by now he has written 65 books & , since 1965, given over 4,500 presentations. That's laying out a whole lot of paperbacks on folding tables; it's being handed a whole lot of microphones. I imagine after all these years, he at least half-believes his own bullshit or he'd have shot himself. Maybe he came close.

Surprisingly, looking at the pictures I don't feel the usual pangs of envy. I have no desire to make fun of my googleganger's relentless grin, or to mock his cornball sales pitches or sniff at his roster of "inspirational, life-changing" articles. Perhaps most importantly, I don't feel the usual mixture of rage & shame knowing that my father would have understood & been comfortable with my googleganger's career & he never was with mine.

So how do I wrap this up? I believe I'll close (in the best inspirational keynote speaker tradition) with a little story.

This year, 42 years out from graduation, I attended my first high school reunion. I decided I was willing to go either because I was finally ready to give an accounting of myself or because I no longer cared about giving an accounting. I wasn't sure which. At the reunion I discovered something truly surprising. My classmates felt the same. Frankly, we all looked like hell in comparison to what we remembered. But it didn't seem to make a difference. Perhaps it was because we had all learned that life beats everybody up. That no one is spared. That you can just assume it. Who's up, who's down? Not even worth talking about. It was enough that we were there.

And with that, I give you greetings & best of luck, dear googleganger. I'm not mad that you consistently hog the top three spots on the Tim Connor google page. We're a nation of salesmen, after all, & obviously you're a good one. To tell you the truth, I'm thrilled to be on the page at all.


Sarah Underhill Photographer said...

haha, there are a few of 'me' out there. Sure wish I could write as well as you do, Tim!

Christine (CA) said...

Totally engaging piece, Tim, and I envy you your double. Me? a complete and likely always orphan. I wish you'd post your old story.

Anonymous said...

There are quite a few of me out there, ranging from former Teamsters officials, to nurses to scientists, and the ones that pop out above me rotate. I'm seldom at the top of own search query. Perhaps having a single and consistent googlegänger makes them more real.

My own high school graduation was over two decades ago, and I skipped the 20th reunion. Perhaps I'm still worried about giving an accounting of myself. Thanks for making me reflect a bit this damp Seattle evening.

Anonymous said...

There are several googlegangers of me, too, including a punk band leader in Chicago and a grocery store manager in Australia. The rest of us are just regular US and UK schmoes.

Anonymous said...

And why should you be envious? You are WAY more handsome than your googleganger! :)

Anonymous said...

Heard your blog quoted on Kim Komando show this weekend. Enjoyed learning about this phenomenon, especially from someone named Tim Conner.


Tim Conner

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

As another Tim Connor, I'm a tad jealous that "Tim Connor, author, speaker, trainer" has got front-billing as your google-ganger. Then again, maybe all Tim Connors should create a joint global identity and claim credit for each others' work? I work for Oxfam Australia, campaigning on labour rights in sportswear factories in Asia, but I'm constantly confused with Tim O'Connor, who lives in the same city and campaigns on global development. Fortunately I've never been confused with another Tim Connor, who also lives in Sydney and sings Irish folk music very badly. I did get a bit scared a few years ago when he started singing every Saturday afternoon in the Pub next door to my house. I was worried he was going to move in and take over my life, or else that my own singing might get even worse. Fortunately neither happened (if indeed the second is even possible).