And, of course, the introduction of Google Buzz further complicates my communication network, as Buzz allows not just the bite-size, Twitter-like thoughts to be shared, and not just links-and-comments, but also slightly longer, more discussion-oriented thoughts. There’s been a lot of criticism of the rollout of Buzz — criticism that’s so widespread I’m not going to bother tracking down links; you can, um, Google it — and much of it well-deserved, but I’ll admit that I’m enjoying it, generally speaking. It brings together several modes of communication that I already use in a way that’s useful to me, and it allows me to keep up with what a set of people I follow are reading or thinking about. And it does that without necessarily hopelessly blurring the lines among social spheres, which means — at least for right now — it’s got many of the best aspects of Facebook, but with much less noise.
Necessarily, though, is a big caveat: one of the primary criticisms of the rollout of Buzz was the way it auto-added many of your email contacts to your followers, creating the potential for all kinds of havoc, as things people expected to be private were suddenly defaulting to a more public setting than they’d intended, and as groups that people meant to kept separate were suddenly mingling. The whole thing would have gone much better if the whole follower/following thing had been made opt-in at the outset.
That said, though, it’s possible to create pretty fine-grained control of who sees what in Buzz, if you’re vigilant about your contact groups and the ways you share stuff. So taking my own advice, I spent much of this morning wading through my contacts — synchronizing my Address Book with Google Contacts, creating better groups, assigning each and every contact to the right group, and so forth. I feel so organized right now it hurts.
But here’s the reason for this post: when I got to my own Google Contact entry, I spotted an email address that I wasn’t expecting to see: basically, firstname-dot-lastname at gmail. And I was a bit surprised — I didn’t know I had that email address. In fact, I so didn’t know I had that email address that I’d actually tried a couple of times in the last couple of years to obtain that email address, only to be told that it was taken.
And it was. Apparently, by me.
When I spotted that address in my contact information, I assumed it was a mistake, but decided to check it out. I logged out of my usual gmail account, and attempted a password reset on the other one. The system asked me for my father’s middle name — and trust me, this is a real determiner; there’s no way that someone else out there with my name has a father with the same middle name. And then it took me to the password reset screen.
The account was not only actually mine, but it was apparently my first gmail account; I sent myself an invite from that account to create the one I now use. All of the sent mail in that account was from me, mostly sending out gmail invitations, and all of it was over five years old.
The inbox, however, had a backlog of 525 messages from the last five years, most of them from the last two years. Of course a bunch of it was spam that hadn’t gotten properly filtered. But a lot of it was sent by actual people who typed in an actual email address. And going through these messages was absolutely dizzying. It felt as though some little part of my internet persona had broken off from me and been living a life — or, more accurately, lives — of its own.
I apparently attended an entrepreneurial workshop at Stanford in 2009, where I used this address on several sign-in sheets, and got several followup messages. I also attended a spiritual/motivational retreat in Salt Lake City a while back, and have been deluged with mail from the organization that ran it, as well as the other folks who were at that retreat. My father (not mine; my breakaway persona’s) has invited me to keep in touch with him on LinkedIn. I went to law school and shared class notes with several of my fellow students. I am much loved by a woman who shares my last name, and emails me every single day to tell me so. And then there’s the woman who was emailing me about the arrangements for the rehearsal dinner for her wedding; she’s probably pretty pissed at me right now.
I’ve had internet doppelgangers before, folks who mistakenly think my email address is theirs, and who use it to sign up for some of the most annoying things. This felt different, however, as I’d completely forgotten the account existed, and let it go on to live several different lives without me.
The question now is whether to start using that account. It’ll take some time, I imagine, to persuade my law school colleagues, my friends from the retreat, and everyone else that I’m not who they think I am, but the address is a good one, and it would be worth doing a bit of rehab on that persona, I think.