Looking in the Mirror | The Ugly Truth of Search Engines

Search engine histories don’t lie. Diaries do.

Life, in reflection, is always better or worse than I remember it. Media theorist Stuart Hall claims that it isn’t possible to communicate a raw event; first it has to become a “story.” And, according to Joan Didion, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

The stories I tell myself are bullshit.

When I want the truth about myself, I check my search history. My research into corrective “cankle” surgery? Google knows all about it. Wart or pimple? Yahoo recognizes the bump in the night (and has some very unpleasant “images” to prove it). Psych central knows I’m a nutcase. WebMd tells me I’m a ticking time bomb. My search histories are alarming, embarrassing, or (usually) both.

The Internet knows who I really am, not who I want to be. It’s a reflection of my darkest secrets, my worst fixations, my bad shopping decisions. “But I’m a humanitarian,” I say, “…a champion of the homeless and the environment.” And The Walking Dead. First and foremost, The Walking Dead.

Search engines have a merciless memory. Who was I a month ago? A year ago? Five years ago? They tell me how I’ve changed—or not changed. Some might call a decade of Andy Dick searches “obsession.” I call it “loyalty”…sort of like the Reddit groups that I cruise or the Tumbler blogs to which I don’t subscribe. I take without giving—like a dirty, rotten thief. Yes, Andy Dick, you’re only the tip of the iceberg.

So periodically I take a screen shot of my search history. I keep these photos somewhere safe—off my hard drive—on a USB, buried in the back of a very messy drawer. Someday, I can look at it.

Or not.

I know that looking isn’t in my best interest, which is why I periodically click “history” on the drop-down menu, scroll all the way to the bottom, and hit “erase.” The best thing about the truth is that I can forget it—until it shows up as an ad on my Facebook feed. Thoughtful readers will tell me not to be such a whiny chicken-shit and download Tor. I’m seriously considering it.

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