January 10, 2007
I google myself every so often, just to make sure that the real Cheryl Donahue–me–comes up at the top of the list. I suppose those other Cheryl Donahues consider themselves just as real. But they are too spookily like alternate selves to get complacent about. Just minor tweaks in the life circuit, and they could be me. That’s why I have to watch them.
For example, there’s a Cheryl Donahue who is, apparently, a librarian in Canton, Connecticut. Oddly, that is the small town right next to the small town where I grew up. Did I, perhaps, never leave? Did I come back after college and settle into the familiar seasons of a pretty town in the Farmington River Valley? I see with a shock that this self has a story hour,"Storytime with Cheryl Donahue."
Wait. I can picture it. Small children gathered around me in a cozy corner of the library, bright-faced, fidgety. I read to them and show them other books they might like and help them get library cards. I feed the ones with a reading spark and help the ones who are struggling, trying to ignite that spark. I open them up to the entire world.
I feel a slight pang. I love books and I love reading. I even love small children. This is an alternate, sweeter, less restless self. A self who stayed near where she grew up, was never entertained by politics, and never went to Washington, D.C. Cheryl Donahue the children’s librarian in Canton, Connecticut. It could have been me.
There’s also a Cheryl Donahue in California who works as a public information officer for San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG–great acronym!), an agency concerned with regional transportation. She is often quoted in local newspapers, saying things like "Mobility is one of our biggest challenges in Southern California" and "We just don’t have billions of dollars lying around."
Wait a minute. Did I not spend several years in the Transportation issue area in the General Accounting Office (now Government Accountability Office) in Washington, D.C.? Do I not have a graduate degree in public policy and administration? Last and least, did I not write press releases (trying to work the word "unconscionable" into each one…) for members of Congress when I worked on an extraordinarily minor (so minor that the House leadership eventually killed it) subcommittee on Capitol Hill ?
The public policy, public transportation Cheryl Donahue could definitely be me. A me who settled after graduate school into a field where she actually uses her degree. A me who is proudly listed on the alumni register. A me who headed toward California sun instead of Irish rain. A very possible alternate me.
These other Cheryl Donahues are too close, somehow, and I wonder if there is more to the Google algorithm than Larry and Sergey are revealing. Perhaps Google functions like an online Dickens, showing us our possible selves year-round instead of just on Christmas Eve, giving us a glimpse into characters we might have been had we made different choices at crucial moments.
A Google Carol.
A few days ago, before writing this piece, I googled again and found a completely new Cheryl Donahue at the top of the list. She is "linked in," and her business card shows her to be an account manager in Austin, Texas. Well, Austin’s a cool town. I think. I would never have been an account manager, though. I don’t even know what an account manager is.
But today my significant other emailed me the URL for "Linked in," with a note saying "this is a cool tool…" Coincidence? Or is the "linked in" Cheryl Donahue a Google glimpse of a possible future self?
Oh Google spirit, are these the things that must be or the things that might be? I’ll change, I swear. I’ll do more writing. I will. Please don’t make me an account manager in Austin. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If it must be Austin, how about a country music singer?
Can you bargain with Google?
I suppose there’s nothing to do but forge ahead on my own bizarre path, occasionally checking into Google to see where other choices might have landed me. It’s a useful service, really. An alternative reality check.
Meanwhile, there are enough "Cheryl Donahue"s in this piece to keep the real me at the top of the Google list for at least a month.