Brand building through storytelling

My googleganger and me

I know plenty of constructive uses for a spare few minutes in my day, but I’ve been known to indulge a secret vice instead. Instead of purging the fridge of month-old celery, booking my next dental checkup or getting the jump on a magazine deadline, I go online and Google Rona Maynard. I only do this when I’m hungry for proof that I matter in the eyes of the world. While the real me procrastinates in her bathrobe, my virtual self is giving speeches and receiving various honours.

In the midst of this weirdly reassuring ritual, I once came across a speech I never gave. Yet there was my name on the list of speakers at a conference on addiction. I have more than a passing interest in addiction: my father was an alcoholic. I’ve often given speeches about mental health. So it’s not inconceivable that I might be asked to share my views from a conference podium. Except I wasn’t. Not this time. They invited Rona Maynard of Brandon, Manitoba. This other Rona Maynard was an expert on compulsive gambling. And a busy one, it turned out. Scrolling onward, I found her again and again. I even found a third Rona Maynard, an organizer of community programs in Marbletown, New York. That these women existed seemed impossible, but the real surprise was my own indignation. I felt as if unseen hands had plundered the drawer where I keep my old journals.

Why did I care? And why was I Googling myself in the first place? The whole thing seemed the height of self-absorption. I thought I must be alone with my unsettling and faintly embarrassing habit, but of course I was not. There’s no experience so strange that others do not share it. This particular 21st-century experience, looking for yourself online and finding someone else with your name, has become so common that the endlessly evolving English language has stepped into the breach. There’s actually a word for our shadow online selves, those other people who pop up when we’re looking for proof of our importance. And a very fine word it is: googleganger, a timely twist on old favourite of mine, doppelganger (ghostly double of a living person).

Among hard-core language geeks, googleganger is no longer hot stuff. It was last year’s most creative new word, according to the American Dialect Society, and has already inspired a flurry of news stories: the ingenue whose googleganger was a porn star, the guy who befriended his googleganger on Facebook (let’s make that “friended,” speaking of new words). I may be a tad slow on the uptake, but I intend to do my part for this wonderfully useful word. Like all good words (and good books), googleganger brings people together. From the welter of stories we’re living, most of which will never be told, it extracts a common theme: the desire to be uniquely oneself while still fitting in with the crowd.

Until recently, it never crossed my mind that there might be another Rona Maynard. Growing up in a small New Hampshire town, I knew no one called Rona—a funny name, other kids used to think. I longed for a familiar name like Barbara or Susan. As time passed, I came to treasure the distinctiveness of Rona. Susan was a twin-set-and-pearls kind of name, while Rona had suggested a silk shawl dashingly pinned with a silver brooch from somewhere exotic. I was in my 20s when I encountered my first Rona at a party. That night I said something that made me shiver because I’d never said it to any living soul: “Goodbye, Rona.”

When I found Rona Maynard the gambling expert, I thought of tracking her down. But really, what was there to say? Besides, I couldn’t quite suppress the irrational conviction that I was the real Rona Maynard while she was a mere impostor. Then several months ago, while putting off some task or other, I Googled Rona Maynard and found her obituary. She died of cancer in January, 2006, a woman just about exactly my age. A golfer and a gardener, she left a husband, two daughters and six grandchildren. Her photo shows a trustworthy face gently weathered by life and its changes. If we had ever met at her kitchen table or mine, what stories we might have shared. But all I know about her is her name, Rona Maynard.

Posted by Rona

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