August 2021


On Googling the Past

Every so often I wonder what happened to various people from my past.

Thanks to Google, I can give it a go.

Earlier this year I googled one of my contemporaries from the University of Wyoming – his name had popped into my head randomly and I wondered what had become of him. Google, of course, is not perfect and the first person I found was a convicted sex offender.

That sat with me for a couple days – yes, the guy I knew was a Republican; yes, I knew he was from Wyoming; and yes, we were radically different in our political perspectives – but I had trouble reconciling my memories of this guy with the fact that he was now a convicted sex offender.

Then I re-searched the guy and realized that the sex offender was too young. A more careful search revealed that the guy I knew had died when he was 44; certainly an untimely death – the obituary describes him as a “kind man with just a little bit of orneriness.”

Finding this was a huge relief: the undergraduate I remembered could easily be described as a “kind man with just a little bit of orneriness” – thus I could dismiss the prospect of him being a convicted sex offender from my mind.

A few years ago, my mother gave me a copy of my sixth grade graduation program. For whatever reason, I put off looking at it closely for at least five years. Then, last November, it floated to the top of a stack of papers and I glanced through the list of names: there were many people whose names I could not remember. There were some names where I could remember the name, but the name was sufficiently generic that any attempts to google the name would be impossible.

For example, googling my name turns out “about 909,000 results.” This is a lot, but it’s not impossible (and, indeed, I am on the first page). One of my classmates was named “Aaron Smith” – which gives “About 210,000,000 results.” I imagine that if I wanted to, I could probably add a few keywords to try and narrow the search, but that would rely upon the assumption that he still lives near where he grew up. (Plus, to be fair, while the name rings a bell, I could not remember anything specific about him; so there is not a strong connection, from my perspective.)

There was one classmate whose name I remembered – a name so unusual it probably is unique on this planet. So, I googled him: with around 30,000 results it was easy to find him.

It turned out that in the intervening 35 years our paths may have taken radically different – individualized – routes, but for the last five years, we’ve both lived in Berlin.

His home is 1.2 km (ca. three-quarters of a mile) from my old apartment.

We’ve met and get along fabulously well — thus, I can honestly talk about my elementary school friend.

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