Searching on an incognito browser, I found that there is only one search result on the first page of Google that is actually about me. My LinkedIn page shows up as the top result, revealing a decent amount about me as a student and budding professional, but almost nothing about me as a person. If my personhood were defined by a Google search, I would only be known for the Computer Science classes I’ve taken, the academic awards I’ve received, and the tech companies I’ve worked at. I didn’t make my LinkedIn account until the end of Freshman year of college, so this erases who I was and the academic interests I had before then. Coming into college I knew I loved math and science and I was a Biology major. I had never taken a CS course in my life until second semester Freshman year, when I decided to switch majors. My LinkedIn makes it seems like CS is my entire life, when in reality it has only been a part of my life for about three years.
The rest of the information on the first page of Google was about other Hannah Engelman’s. I’ve never met anyone else with my last name, but it turns out to be more common than I anticipated. I looked at the public Instagram for one of these other Hannah’s, and she seems to be around the same age and have the same general physical appearance as me. It’s strange to think that if she were to Google herself, I would come up as well. Though I’ve never met, heard of, or seen her our identities are intertwined online. I was so desperate for more information about myself that I actually went to the second page of Google. Once again, social media accounts for other Hannah’s came up – YouTube channels, Pinterest accounts, and more – but there was only one result about me. The Medium account that I created for this class showed up with my one currently listed article: “Big Tech’s Extremism Problem.” This further connects my online identity to my field of study and is probably something I should unlist as it portrays my future company and industry in a not-so-flattering light.
Hannah Engelman The Shipley School
In order to learn more about my online identity pre-dating college, I searched for my name with the school I attended from kindergarten through high school. A surprising number of results appeared, but only some of them provided information about myself that added to the picture from my LinkedIn profile. There were posts from my school that I’ve never seen before about my friend and my placing in various DECA (a business case club) competitions. Sadly, the school I attended my entire life spelled my name incorrectly, Engelmann instead of Engelman. There were also posts from my school that I was included in about national merit winners and our senior year academic awards. These articles only contribute to the image built by my LinkedIn profile. Though this image of me being academically accomplished isn’t a bad thing or something I would want to hide, this is not how I or my friends would describe me as a person if asked.
The other piece of information available about me is that I played varsity lacrosse through Sophomore year of high school. My jersey number #26 was displayed, as well as the scores of the games we played. It was amusing to look back at the scores of some of the games (19-3, 17-3) and to think about how terrible we were that season. In the moment when I’m sure I was upset about our obliteration, I certainly wasn’t thinking about how this information would live forever online for anyone who looks hard enough to see. As interesting and random as this information is, it also only tells part of the story. I played lacrosse from 3rd through 10th grade, but I absolutely hated it by the end and quit. Today, I wouldn’t consider lacrosse an interest of mine at all. Maybe continuously losing had something to do with that.
For most people my age, social media tends to portray a more accurate representation of our daily lives than a simple Google search. It is, however, skewed towards the things we want others to know about ourselves. For example, I would never make a Facebook post talking about how badly my lacrosse team lost. We post our most flattering photos and memories as if this is all our life is defined by.
As someone who is more of a social media scroller than a poster, I’ve found that my Facebook account is the most accurate representation of my life online. The last time I posted on Facebook was three years ago but my feed is filled with various photos and posts I’ve been tagged in, usually by my mom who is an avid Facebook user and poster. There are photo albums my friends posted of our early college years doing normal college things: hanging out, tailgating, attending sorority events.
There are also countless photos that I’ve been tagged in from my days as a horseback rider. I rode and competed from the age of five through senior year of high school. It’s something that I got so much enjoyment out of, and this comes across in the various memories I found while scrolling back in time on my feed. Of all the discoveries during this process, this was the happiest for me.
The last time I posted on Instagram was last September. Despite all the calls to “make Instagram casual again,” my page still reflects a highly curated version of my life. There are photos from my time abroad, with friends, and tailgating. I rarely posted before college and have archived most of the photos from that time because they are just too cringy to look at now. If you happen to follow me on Instagram, you’ll be able to see that I traveled to Copenhagen while studying abroad but you won’t know about the incredibly sketchy hostel I stayed in. You can see who some of my closest friends are but not understand the dynamics of our relationships or the normal ebb and flow of new friends coming into my life and old ones growing apart. My page reflects my shiniest and also shallowest self.
As Floridi brought up in Ethics After the Information Revolution, we “construct, self-brand, and re-appropriate ourselves in the infosphere” by manipulating the information that is available about us online. In this day and age, it can be easy to equate a digital presence with a legacy. Upon discovering how little public information there is available about me online, I had to rethink what my legacy means to me. The information available about me online doesn’t accurately represent who I am as a person, it only represents certain parts of me that are beneficial to expose to the world like what I’m studying and where I’m working. For the most part, google search and social media included, only the highlights of my life are displayed when the reality behind them is obscured. I would estimate that my life is about 10% internet-worthy fun and accomplishments and 90% mundanity and hard work. On the internet you can discover where I’ll be working post-grad but not know the strenuous hours of coding and studying that went into getting that job. On the internet you can find photos of myself doing fun things with friends when in reality, especially during this pandemic, we mostly just play a lot of Mario Cart, do crosswords, and watch The Bachelor. You could internet stalk me forever and still never know my personality until we meet in person.
Ultimately, I think I’m happy that there is little information about me online. This allows me more freedom in my day-to-day life and physical interactions with other people. Having an online legacy can give you a lot to try to live up to or a lot to try to hide. Though I do wish the information available about me online were more representative of who I am today, I’m not going to set about trying to change it. I’m going to live in relative anonymity instead.