Recently, I was using one of the search engines on the Web to look up my own name. I was surprised how many pages the engine finally listed. There were commentaries I wrote for one of my classes, parts of discussions I had taken part in and that I had forgotten about a while ago, projects created for other classes and several other things. (The project you are reading will soon have been listed, too.)
Not that I was concerned about the amount of information that is stored on the Web and thus accessible for millions of people. I'd rather have that kind of public data stored on the Web than in a sealed box in the corner of some dark cellar in the CIA (or rather the BND in my case). What surprised me was that the Web remembers so well. A good deal of the traces I had left on the Internet were collected there right before my eyes. Then I thought of the e-mail accounts of all the people I mailed to and came to the conclusion that if someone tried really hard to piece together a picture of me based on everything that has been on the Internet, he or she could be quite successful.
There are obviously more non-virtual documents of me and whatever I have done but the point I am trying to make is that the accesibility of information about me and what I have done on the Web gives it another dimension. William J. Mitchell spends some pages in City of Bits talking about the paradoxical side of having several names and passwords representing yourself on the Web . I am rather interested in the metaphorical side of that notion.
In the introductory story I described the feeling of stepping outside of oneself, looking at oneself, while floating through the masses of people and information that became too much to be digested any longer. This disjointedness is embodied in the list I got from the search engine. It is also embodied in the CDs I ordered over the Web and that I find my mailbox a couple of days later; it is embodied in the prices I won for entering random sweepstakes while I was browsing the Web.