There is an episode of Star Trek in which Kirk and the gang meet a man with the most enviable collection of original art, writings, and musical compositions in the universe. He has compositions by Mozart, paintings by Leonardo, and so forth.
The thing is, they are all pieces that no one has ever seen before. As it turns out, the man actually is Mozart. And Leonardo. And so forth. He discovered in an ancient battle that he couldn’t be killed, and over his 3,000-year lifespan went on to become every creative genius Earth (and a few other planets, actually) ever produced.
I mention this because this is what I’m going to start telling people about myself if they ever search for me online. They’re all me. Every Scott Morgan out there making a name for himself, that’s me. I’m a rock & roll soulster from Detroit, a successful Houston-area divorce attorney, an artist/photographer in L.A., and a former pro baseball player with the Angels farm system. I’ve also produced an Oingo Boingo album and do sound effects for video games, but you get the point. I’m the man.
Unfortunately, I’m also the man who (allegedly, of course) stole some guy’s identity in Colorado and went to jail.
So what does all this actually mean? Well, primarily it means I have a really common name, although it seems to be a lucky one, given all the Scott Morgans doing things with their lives. Colorado-me aside, of course.
But in a bigger picture, it means I’m a little nervous. I Googled myself recently, not out of vanity, but because a friend had some old, unwelcome acquaintance stumble across her Facebook page, and it got me thinking about what’s actually out there about me — the real one and the Star Trek-style alter egos.
So far I’ve been lucky. Anyone confusing me with some Scott Morgan they find online would probably think well of me. Then again, no one has much reason to look for the real me. I’m not job hunting or looking for a mortgage. Nor am I in the dating pool (thank God). But if I were suddenly “out there,” trying to find new work or looking to trade in the missus for a newer model, what conclusions might anyone come to if she decided to do a little online sleuthing?
I’ve already accepted the idea that some future archaeologist will reconstruct the story of my life from the E-mail in my spam filter and build a wildly unflattering portrait of me. But during this lifetime, how much control do I really have over what people learn about me and how they perceive it? I know for certain that I’m not the Vancouver-based composer for the Dragonball-Z series, nor am I the architect who built the Bridgewater Clubhouse in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
But how might anyone else know that if I happened to live in Vancouver (where I attended film school) or Mississippi (where I once stayed with my brother during his term in the Air Force)? A few years ago, when I was a reporter at the Princeton Packet, Scott Morgan was charged with DWI while driving through Plumsted, which had been my beat. The copy desk called immediately to make sure it wasn’t me. Because if it was, I was heading for the front page with a pink slip in my hand.
I know how paranoid I sound, but consider that babies have been given to the wrong couples at the hospital (I did a story in the February 17 edition of U.S. 1 that referenced this very thing); surgeons have removed feet from the wrong patients (actually happened to a cousin’s neighbor); and toddlers have been banned from air travel because their names are on a terrorist watch list (would love to say I know this kid personally, but I don’t).
My point is, mistakes happen. And anything is possible when you have a common name in a particular field. There are at least two Scott Morgans besides myself identified as bylined newspaper staff writers in the United States. But I could be mistaking one writer for two. I don’t know whether it is one guy at two papers or two separate Scott Morgans. The old saw that it takes one to know one doesn’t hold up here. There is also a vociferous anti-drug war blogger who often vents his mistrust of the police. Agree with him or don’t, but he ain’t me.
Profession aside, there is a geographical aspect. I used to live in Wilmington, North Carolina, where Scott Morgan Construction is running along smoothly. I went to film school in Vancouver, where Scott Morgan is heavily involved in television music scoring. Now I work in Princeton, where in the mid-1990s Scott Morgan was a pretty good rower for the university crew.
These are benign examples, of course. Not to mention enviable in some cases. But there are documented cases of credit companies badgering the wrong guy because someone with the same name attended the same college. And there was a Cornell University professor who was confused with a murder suspect of the same name. That name was Stephen Morgan, by the way, and that’s close enough. I don’t like the idea of any S. Morgans being wanted on a murder rap.
So what can a guy do to protect his good name online? One possible solution is a new website, Vizibility.com. It is a search engine like Google, but it allows you to search for yourself with pertinent details of your choice, such as where you have worked. You could always encourage a potential employer to look you up through this site rather than Google. It’s nice in that it does narrow down the field considerably, but unless Vizibility becomes a household word it probably will be about as useful a search engine as Bing or Cuil. From what I can tell, no one is dethroning Google for a while.
Trying to hide won’t work. My father never sat in front of a computer — not even just to take a seat at my house while the computer was off — for so much as one second in his 82 years. And yet I’ve found him online. So anonymity won’t help, but you could always take the opposite tack and get famous. Michael Jackson is as common a name as you can get, but you know the one I’m talking about.
The real solution, like always, lies somewhere between marooning yourself on Gilligan’s Island and attaining astronomical mega-stardom. The best thing you can do these days is to acknowledge that you are part of this world, common name or not, and put as much professional and public information about yourself out there as you can. Keep your information updated so that anyone looking for you (and they are looking for you) will at least get the right one.
Particularly if you are in business, it makes sense to have a good public profile. Just don’t lie. Speaking as a journalist, if you make us chase you, you won’t like what we find out.
On the other hand, if you help steer people toward the real you, you will lessen the risk that someone will confuse you with someone who obviously isn’t you.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few urology patients to see at my office in Normal, Illinois.