Manassas Journal Messenger | Internet can tell a life history

A few days ago I was taken aback by a phone call from someone I don’t know and will likely never meet, who seemed to know a whole lot about me.

No, it wasn’t my friendly neighborhood bank or a telemarketer. When I finally asked her how she knew what she knew, she paused for a moment (probably to contemplate whether I was from another planet), and then said matter-of-factly, “Oh, sorry. We googled you.”

It must be a supreme compliment for the folks who run the Google online search engine that their product is quickly becoming part of everyday speech. Not too shabby for a service that only turned five years old last month. And I suppose it’s somehow comforting to know that you can be googled with some results, that somewhere on a planet of billions of people spinning in the universe, some odd device actually bothered to gather a whole lot of your own stuff with your name on it, and then put it in some type of order and finally stick it up on people’s computer screens so they can see what your life is all about.

Of course, this assumes that the “you” that is googled on the vast Internet really is you and not someone else, or maybe several “someone elses” who might have the audacity to have your name. So after that phone call last week, I did what I’m sure a lot of you have done in the past couple of years – I decided to Google myself (which apparently is now legal in all states, even Virginia).

I went to the Google Web site and slowly, methodically and meticulously typed in my name – spelling it correctly on the very first try. So far, so good. Then after about 15 minutes of self-medication (sorry, that should read “self-meditation”), I hit the Search button.

The good news? The world as we know it did not end.

The other good news? Google called up 13,600 hits on my name. The bad news? There are a lot of people out there using my name! These people are not me, and vice versa! Quite frankly, if they were me, I would not admit it!

For example, I was horrified to see that “John Merli” recently wrote a nasty letter to the editor of the New York Times, chastising anybody who dared to criticize the Bush administration for anything.

That was not me! I barely even know what a “Bush administration” is!

And there’s a guy out there named me who seems to be well-known in t-shirt circles.

Apparently, it seems that I (no, I mean he) creates these shirts and sells them, and his opinion seems to be highly valued among those who follow the wonderful world of t-shirt design. (Naturally, he’s from California.) I have never turned down a free t-shirt in my life, but alas, this is not me.

The guy who scored the most Google hits, another obvious imposter using my good name, seems to be a rather well-known bicyclist. He even has his own Web site. He looks about 25 years-old in his many pictures online. But except that our ages are pretty close (within 30 years or so, anyway), this person also is very much not me.

Nor are the Merli’s from Pennsylvania who are related to a real-life Medal of Honor winner from World War II, the late Gino Merli.

uy who wrote all those glowing forecasts about high-definition television while at PBS several years ago? He’s quoted as boldly predicting that “digital flat-screen TV sets selling for under a thousand dollars will be in virtually every American living room by 2002.” Yep, that was me.

And the guy using my name who wrote back in 1995 that “new CD-quality digital radio receivers will be standard features in all American vehicles no later than 1998”? Yeah, that was me, too. (So I was a decade or two off.)

And if you go down a couple more search levels, there’s even one of these columns from the Potomac News on political predictions three years ago. (In fairness to me, there probably is a “President Gore” roaming around somewhere. He could be the head of some small company somewhere and maybe his first name is really Warren or Stuart. That’s who I meant.)

So if you haven’t googled yourself yet, you may want to check it out for your own well-being. There are probably people out there doing and saying all sorts of things – and using your name to do it. What’s even worse, it also appears that you’re using their name, too.

John Merli has been a Prince William County resident since 1984, and a Potomac News columnist since 1985. He has worked in the media for more than 30 years. E-mail him at: [email protected]

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