The phenomenon, of course, will disproportionately bedevil celebrities and anyone who does blunder into Warhol's 15 minutes of fame. In the winter of 2007, actor Alec Baldwin, a divorced dad who had been shabbily treated by his teenage daughter 3,000 miles away, left a scorching voicemail berating the child for cruelty and disrespect toward her own father. The message found its way to the internet, exposing him to charges of tele-child abuse.
Actor and screenwriter Eric Schaeffer wrote a book titled I Can't Believe I'm Still Single. This unleashed a torrent of online testimony from women far less incredulous than Schaeffer -- including e-mail traffic purportedly between Schaeffer and various of his previous dates. Now anyone who Googles him will find chapter and verse of narcissism and sexual perversion. His number 2 Google entry -- and I concede it may be an exaggeration -- is headlined: "The World's Worst Person."
Anontella Barba was an architecture student at Catholic University in 2006 when she made a big splash on "American Idol." Described by the Washington Post as "a coltish beauty with a jazzy vibe," she was briefly the most Googled woman in America -- though this perhaps owed less to her jazzy vibe than jazzy photos of her, along "Girls Gone Wild" lines, that were posted online. Shortly thereafter, she was eliminated from "Idol" and tried to return, at least temporarily, to obscurity -- as she told the Post -- "to stay out of the public eye a bit."
Yeah, right. In the digital world, the genie never goes back into the bottle. On that subject, perhaps the world's foremost expert is Aleksey Vayner.
He was the Wall Street job candidate who sent a video resume in 2006 to the investment banking firm UBS. The video was so appallingly and hilariously self-aggrandizing, someone at the firm couldn't resist passing it along.
The recipient also couldn't resist, and soon Vayner's vanity was a viral phenomenon on YouTube. "Impossible is nothing," he offered by way of his philosophy, borrowing from the adidas shoe ad campaign of the same name, much as he apparently borrowed whole passages in his self-published book on the Holocaust, and as he borrowed the website template for his nonexistent hedge fund.
The true beauty of the Vayner video, though, was the catalogue of his world-class sporting achievements: his 140 mph tennis serve, his 495 lb bench press and, of course, his karate destruction of seven ceramic bricks. The downhill skiing shots (apparently of somebody else) and ballroom dancing sequence with the totally hot babe with the bare midriff were also quite impressive. As one poster on one blog summed up the guy's prospects: "This guy is just a joke, and Google shall always remember his name as such." His name, and face, and brick disintegrating will forever be associated with malignant self regard. He is, in a word, an international laughingstock.
And it's not fair.
Yes, Vayner made a pompous ass of himself, and, yes, he's just the kind of self-inflated blowhard everyone loves to see getting his comeuppance. But he also is a victim. His video was sent to UBS as privileged communication in what should have been a confidential personnel process. The leak was a gross invasion of his privacy, and one from which he will never fully recover. Fifteen years ago, had a Yale student sent an identical resume to Wall Street, he also would have been a laughingstock -- but the laughs would have been limited to a handful of people within about one square mile.
It has often been observed that Google is God, which may or may not be so. We do know this, though: sometimes it is benevolent, and sometime it is wrathful. Verily, Google giveth, and Google taketh away.