Photo from this truly brilliant The Onion bit
There are many things to be gained from these days of internet connectivity. The ability for me to find a distributor in the US & Canada for Vinologue and send them all the information they need to sell my books in a country on the other side of the ocean would have been unheard of 20 years ago. It is, truly amazing and it has indeed changed the world. The one problem that it has brought with it, mainly due to the addition of social networks, is your digital footprint that used to wash away with the waves of time is something that’s very much trailing you everywhere you go.
For instance this blog has documented pretty much everything that I’ve done for the last decade. That was by my choosing and if I desired, I could delete all of it and there would be no trace of these past activities. But, there still would be. Various conferences I’ve spoken at while working in the movie, web, publishing, NGO, or wine industries float around out there and even though I fully eradicated my LinkedIn profile it’s persistent and if someone desires, they can find any of these activities associated with me. For instance when traveling in the Balkans in 2007 to research what would be Vinologue, my editor in chief and I stayed with a friend of hers in Sarajevo who, upon knowing my full name looked me up on the web and found my IMDb profile. That’s not something I’m ashamed of at all and quite enjoyed that time, but it’s quite confusing for all us humans as it seems we have an instinctive response to categorize a person when we meet them for the first time. Most of the time we would call this stereotyping or profiling and obviously it can be bad, but it seems right or wrong, it’s an instinctive response and there’s little we can do to not do it. Naturally, it seems that the less intelligent you are, the worse it gets and honestly, most of us are pretty dumb.
Throughout my various paths in life I’ve thankfully had the cover of the internet. This wonderful system of communication that we now can’t live without and casts our past in digital stone has also allowed me an excuse to do many things in life. For instance, I worked for Francis Coppola building his websites. This allowed me to also work on film and wine while telling everyone that I was a web guy. Then for publishing I was technically an IT guy, but I also worked on the magazine websites. In the NGO world, I built up the non-defunct Maneno website which allowed me to travel around Africa yet return to San Francisco and still be a web guy and work for a pharmaceutical company.
Of course now I’ve stepped back a bit from everything web and am focusing most all of my time on wine writing. I suppose I could still go back to the web, but as I get steadily closer to 40, that seems highly unlikely which is why I made the change given that I knew my web cover would start having gaps as time went on. Still, it’s a nebulous enough industry that I could still probably use it with some people and they’d just nod and take it on faith given that most people don’t know what the hell you do, except that Google is mighty fine and people like you make that happen.
The bigger problem arises when your “cover” field is something that most people think they can do themselves such as writing, journalism, photography, etc. You could easily do everything I’ve done and keep stating that you’re a journalist, but then the picking starts. People ask, “Oh yes, for who?”, “Oh, where have you published articles?”, etc. Because they can quantify “journalist” they want to know details. Sure, it’s being nosy, but that’s what people are. And of course they can again easily go on the internet and see, “Aha, you weren’t a ‘journalist’ then, you worked in marketing for that company!” Or the best one, “You’re not a ‘journalist’, you’re a blogger!”
So here’s the real problem when you do a diverse number of things in your life. You either have to figure out some kind of universal cover that links all of them up so that people when meeting you can go, “Ah, yes, he does X” or then you’re stuck with the less enjoyable task of trying to hide one activity from another, for instance say you work in governance related NGO’s but you’re also a proponent of good, sustainable food. These are ironically incompatible as one group has absolutely no interest in the other and you can’t straddle the two despite the fact that they’re heavily linked. This then often leads to many people I know needing to have two profiles on Facebook and two websites and other facets of duplication. It’s ironic that in this era of streamlined efficiency due to digital communication we have to maintain this bizarre duplication of our digital selves in order to be taken seriously.
Now we come to the reason for this title. I wanted to create the longest title that I hope there will ever be for an article here as despite wine writing, film, and everything else I’ve done, the bits that have stuck to the wall continue to be my adventures in Africa from 2008-2010. Specifically my articles about Kinshasa Airport and expats in DRC Congo. Given the seasonable nature to the clicks on these articles, it’s quite clear that they’re being read by aid workers or other would-be do gooders heading to Congo for the first time and not having the slightest fucking clue about the country they’re supposedly going to “help”.
Naturally I wonder why on earth people like this go to Congo. But more importantly I wonder why, after five years people still find my article more than any other? While I know Search Engine Optimization (SEO) well, I’ve done nothing to boost this article. The only thing I can guess is that most people aren’t publicly writing about their time in Congo who are working for aid groups there due to the fact that they want to keep work and private life separate or they’re just tired of “Oh, you work in… Congo? Wow, you’re so brave.”
While there are some who write, they seem to often not use their full names such as the very excellent, but now defunct Journey Without Maps or to some extent the now very popular Mama Congo. It is true that many don’t want their work to know about their personal writings (the UN did and possibly still does strictly forbid it for instance) and so they put up a separation of the two. But I think a lot of it comes down to the original problem I mentioned in that humans like to “type” a person and those who realize this do what they can to direct the “typing” as much as possible. But, in this digital age, it’s getting to be nearly impossible unless you just say screw it and stay offline as much as possible which at times, I’m all for.