Esther’s Space- journey through my life

March 17, 2009

Google Me

Filed under: ENG 566: Lit./Perf./Visual Narrative — Tags: , , — estherspace @ 12:43 pm

Key to further edits: 12 April 2009, 19 April 2009, 20 April 2009

Performance

performance, not as an activity involved only with the experience of art, but as a genre that can be turned to any concerns, marking a return to “message and signification.” (Carlson 163)

Perhaps it is useful to begin by saying that I am using a definition of ‘performance’ that is not unlike the one above, provided by Marvin Carlson. I believe that much of what we do is performative. We are performing roles, and creating performances aimed at extricating ourselves from roles we are not interested in performing. Performance, in this sense, is not at all limited to more formal theatre or art performances. However, every gesture and utterance is still designed to convey certain messages to the audience.

Below you will find my journey through my own identity, as it is available on the Internet. Performance here can be found in the roles that I play which have resulted in my name being placed on any particular site, as well as the performance I am continually engaged in, as I try to mediate and influence the image of “Esther Prokopienko” as it is available to online audiences.

Google “Esther Prokopienko” Me

I fear that Google will be my professional undoing. I fear this for no good reason. Nonetheless, I am terrified that I’ll be applying for a job, then, when the department head Googles my name, something will come up that will not make him/her happy. And that will be the end of that. This makes no sense. I do not lead a life that is at all controversial, and furthermore, if my activities outside of the classroom upset the department to the degree that I would be unfit for the position, it wouldn’t be a place I’d like to work anyway. Still, the mass of information online makes me fear that someday it will all come back to turn on me. I do what I can to influence what my online presence is. But there are some things that I can’t do.

I should probably mention that, perhaps because I have a fairly decent online presence for someone who is only 21 years old and isn’t in a band, I expect others to do me the courtesy of having a similar level of information available. Okay, maybe not ‘decent,’ but I’m there. A new romantic interest? First step is Googling him. Usually a couple of sports lists from high school or a dean’s list from college pop up. Having nothing more than that is a bit disappointing. If there’s nothing that comes up, I get suspicious. In today’s world, is it really possible for a life-long American citizen to be un-Googleable? I started seeing a guy recently, and got yelled at (not really, but in effect) for my tendency to Google everything. I’m a real Oskar Schell. But why limit this to the American world? Who remains unGoogleable these days?

I Google like some people Wikipedia- these nouns become verbs so we can use the internet to understand the environment surrounding us. You like how I made that ‘I’ into a ‘we’? That might just be a rhetorical device aimed at projecting my experiences and feelings onto others so I can feel like I’m part of a community of like-minded individuals. Just maybe.

Or, Perhaps worse than the unGoogleable is the owner of the common name. To all of the Steven Smiths and Jason Moores out there, you suck mostly because I can’t figure out which one of you I’m looking for.

Am I a cyberstalker? Does the answer matter? Whatevs, In order to reduce the tendency for this audience to agree that yes, Esther is a cyberstalker, I’ll just cyberstalk myself.

Why me for this project? It’s a question I’ve been trying to answer beyond the obvious answer of, “because I’m incredibly narcissistic.” The reason I gave at the beginning is true- I do have a level of anxiety about what the internet says about me and what other people will think about that image, since I can’t tailor my image to the individual searcher. This reveals to me that what I’m actually concerned with is all that I cannot control on the internet, and how and why I try to control the image that’s there.

I am particularly interested in analyzing why and how I control this image. In starting to think about this, I was reminded of Bob Flanagan’s “Pain Journal” that he kept during the early days of what we would recognize as the modern use of the internet-as-public-communication-tool. As John Zuern has pointed out (see below for article citation), Flanagan chooses to give the impression that his online journal is a true account of his activity and experiences, as he lives them. To an extent, Zuern seems to take Flanagan’s dedication to honestly recounting his experiences, stating that:

Flanagan frequently falls asleep with his fingers on the keyboard, generating a stream of “d’s” or a half-page of back slashes– preserved in the printed text of the journal. Here Flanagan’s body, the principal [sic] focus of his artwork and his writing, speaks for itself. (1)

Here, Zuern is choosing to believe that Flanagan’s journal is a true, unedited account. I have some reservations about this, though, since it is a habit to self-edit while writing. I changed the last sentence at least four times in the process of writing it before I ended up deciding to characterize the editing behavior as a ‘habit.’

I believe my online presence, like Flanagan’s, is actually a fairly mediated attempt at portraying my life in a digital environment. There is not enough interest in my life to make it useful for there to be comprehensive lists and documentation of the things that I do, so instead anyone who is interested must piece together the disparate pieces of my lie they can find (good luck finding anything from before 2004), in order to create a narrative of my life, interests, and activities. As the mediator, I do what I can to make this a narrative that casts a glowing light.

3/17/09– The Google Web Search for “Esther Prokopienko”

What better place to begin an online search than the Google search engine? It is 2009, after all, and everybody’s doing it. A Google web search for “Esther Prokopienko” on March 17, 2009 takes a mere .30 seconds to come up with 118 websites. Before we get to the sites, though, Google takes the opportunity to suggest to me that perhaps “Esther Prokopienko” wasn’t really what I was looking for, and that maybe the results they found for “Esther Prokopenko” will be more appropriate to my needs. I feel like they’re making me second-guess the validity of the information before I’ve even had a chance to judge for myself.

17-p1-1-717-p1-8-10

So here are the results for the Google web search for “Esther Prokopienko”

  • Esther Prokopienko (Albany, NY) is on Facebook

facebook-public-listing

My Facebook profile is certainly the most complete information source available about me. It is for this reason that I’d prefer to keep it a little more private. Except, the second question anyone asks you is, “Are you on Facebook?” It’s become a way of getting to know someone without having to invest the effort of spending time with them. It is on Facebook that personal and professional lives come together in a very odd list of newsfeeds.

  • Esther Prokopienko has a Classmates.com profile. (I had forgotten about this one)

classmates-listing

I had completely forgotten that I had made a Classmates.com profile.  It was born on a very bored night, roughly three years ago.  Information there is limited, pretty much ‘current city’ and a dated picture of myself are all that can be found.  While I don’t use this site at all, I choose to let it remain, simply because I’m really looking forward to my high school reunion, so I want to make sure they can find me in order to invite me.

  • Twitter/sweetesther7 I got smart and recently locked my tweets so that they’d only be available to those who I’ve approved as ‘following’ me on Twitter. In short, I removed my updates from the public listing

twitter-listing

I got smart and recently locked my tweets so that they’d only be available to those who I’ve approved as ‘following’ me on Twitter. In short, I removed my updates from the public listing.

My list of Google hits continues much in this fashion.  Along with social networking memberships, there are links to conferences I’ve presented at, awards I’ve won, and accounts of activities I’ve participated in.

The one piece of the Google search listing that I cannot control, and it bothers me to no end, is the link to a white supremacist website, Stormfront.  My name can be found here.  My name is simply on the e-mail list they had gotten ahold of from those who had submitted abstracts to a Whiteness Studies conference.  I tried to control this information.  I contacted the conference organizers, complaining that my personal information had somehow been leaked to this bunch.  Their response?  They were afraid of making the white supremacists angry, so they were just going to hope that no one did anything dangerous.  What am I supposed to do in response to that?

Remember when I said that I Google romantic interests?  Well, they Google me, too, and this comes up.

…more to come. I must put this project on pause and go do things in real life.

So, what have we learned from Googling  “Esther Prokopienko?”  Well, she participates in social networking sites, is interested in Australian literature, was the Herkimer County Dairy Princess, she has a blog, she tweets, and she hates white people.  Not a wholly accurate biography, but I can see where the narrative stems from.

What Cannot Be Detected

Paraphrasing anthropologist Clifford Geertz, Marvin Carlson, in the conclusion to his book, Performance: A Critical Introduction, suggests that:

traditional anthropological concerns with continuous traditions, singular and stable cultures, coherent structures, and stable identities has been largely replaced by a concept of identity and culture as constructed, relational, and in constant flux, with the porous or contested borders replacing centers as the focus of interest, because it is at these borders that meaning is continually being created and negotiated. (206)

In other words, notions of identity today are built upon the understanding that there is no central truth that must be discovered. Instead, the most interesting way to conceptualize one’s identity is by locating moments of dissonance or friction between two different sorts of identity archetypes.

This quote brings me to a particular element of my autobiography that a purely digital analysis fails to address- religion. I am Russian Orthodox. I have been Orthodox my entire life, and would argue that my identification as such has had the individual greatest impact on how I approach life- be it my conception of my place in the world, the factors I include in decision-making, or perhaps most especially, where I choose to spend my time.

It is in my church community that I have had the most success as a leader. I am a member of the Executive Committee for the St. Herman’s Youth Conference, as well as a co-coordinator for an Orthodox Women’s Conference initiative (join us in June!). Two weeks ago I co-hosted a Russian Orthodox Youth Choir weekend. This summer I will be returning, again, as a camp counselor for the St. Seraphim Orthodox Youth Camp. In short, I’m involved.

Despite the levels of interest and effort I have invested in my identification with Orthodoxy, there is no proof in the pudding of a Google search. In fact, of the (now) 128 websites that come up when I Google “Esther Prokopienko,” there is not a single mention of Orthodoxy. If you are Facebook friends with me, my participation in things like these is information that is readily available. However, my profile has been purposefully limited so that no one besides my friends (and not even all of them) have access to such information.

I bring this up in order to illustrate the fact that a biography (of any sort) of an individual, no matter how complete it might seem, can easily be too narrowly focussed and will provide a misdirected or underdeveloped perspective on the individual as a result.

A Final Word on Being ‘In Flux’

An obvious statement about the Internet is that it is always changing. For some, the Net’s ability to change and the invisibility of the editor are some of the biggest reasons to be wary of anything it contains. It doesn’t seem necessary to make an argument for the fact that the content of the Internet is always ‘in flux’. However, just to make the point obvious, I’d like to posit this post as an example of the adaptability of information on the Internet. Certainly, this post is the most complete biography available of Esther Prokopienko. While it is imperative to keep in mind that it is an autobiography, it is nonetheless the most comprehensive organization of information, making it a valuable tool to that one person who is at all interested in finding this sort of information out. But, I’ve used a simple color scheme here to illustrate the malleability of the information and the instantaneous change that can take place.

Depending on what day you’ve searched for information on “Esther Prokopienko,” the information available has changed. Mostly, it has expanded, but not entirely. This is certainly a very different way of accessing information than if one used a book, which promotes a certain comfortable sense of permanency. In the month or so since I began this project, my name has appeared in new parts of the Internet, already making my seemingly up-to-date analysis of Google search results a little less valid. The use-value of a biography such as this one is directly proportional to the maintenance that is done on the post in order to ensure its contemporaneity.  I doubt I will maintain this autobiograph.

……………

Carlson, Marvin. Performance: A Critical Introduction. 2 ed. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Zuern, John. “Online Lives: Introduction.” Biography. 26.1 (2003): 1-21.

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