Ever Googled yourself? Bet you have. It’s called “ego surfing” or “vanity searching” and, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American life project, 47% of American adult internet users have undertaken a vanity search in Google or another search engine.
An “ego surfer” is one who surfs the Internet for his or her own name, to see what, if any, articles appear about himself or herself. The term was coined by Sean Carton in Wired (Wikipedia).
I did it today myself in order to see how often my blog would come up on Google. Of course, once I got started, I couldn’t stop until I’d gone through multiple pages to see anywhere else my name appeared. Didn’t matter whether it was in connection with something recent or decades ago. Didn’t even have to be about me; it’s amazing how many other people share my name (public officials, jailbirds), which I’d always thought an uncommon one.
Yes, such is vanity--and we are all vain.
Artists (like dogs and perhaps all God’s creatures) have always tried to leave their mark behind, whether in the form of cave paintings like the Paleolithic ones at Lascaux in southwestern France, whose age is estimated at over 17,000 years, or monuments like Mount Rushmore, which was completed in 1941.
Personally, I wouldn’t dignify carving one’s initials on a public park bench or tagging someone else’s property with graffiti by calling it art. But even these reprehensible acts probably stem from the same primal impulse that moves inventors to try and leave their mark in inventions, athletes in record books, and even some business tycoons by starring in their own cheesy commercials.
Writers, of course, try to leave their mark in books they have written (as opposed to vandals who leave their mark in books someone else has written). Likewise, musicians leave their marks in the songs they’ve made, from the earliest wax recordings to today’s digital technology.
Now that same digital technology is being used by ordinary shlubs to see their name in lights, if only on a computer screen. This is not surprising. The Anglo-Saxons of 1,500 years ago would’ve understood it perfectly. Beowulf, for instance, makes an heroic boast about his past glories before taking on a terrifying monster unarmed. We remember him because 1) he lived to tell the tale and 2) someone wrote it down.
More recently, Muhammad Ali boasted he could “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” Also, that he was “the greatest.” He backed it up, too. Now look at him--he’s got his own museum.
Even before late night talk shows, boasting was a way to achieve fame. And fame mattered because life was short and who knew what came next? The Anglo-Saxons had a fable about a bird who flies out of the darkness into the light of the mead hall, but only for a short time before vanishing again into the night.
Is it any wonder we put tombstones on our graves--or ego surf?