The Law of Internet Invocation
I made a comment on a discussion thread over at Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s Making Light blog which I feel like noting here as well, so here we go. First, a little background: writer Poppy Z. Brite was wandering the ‘Net, as many of us are prone to do, when she came across a LiveJournal community that was, in part, named for her (her initials, in any event). Ms. Brite left a comment there which the moderator and denizens apparently found rude and at the end of it, Ms. Brite found herself banned from the discussion group. Teresa blogged the event, which led to a robust discussion thread (as frequently happens at Teresa’s site) on the matter.
I have no opinion of the whole “Banning Brite” incident, because, really, why should I? But I’m utterly unsurprised that Ms. Brite found the discussion group. As I wrote in the comment thread:
…as a general rule, if you *don’t* want someone to show up on your site, or in your discussion (or whatever), don’t name the discussion (or whatever) after them (and especially, I would think, don’t name them after authors, who are by nature curious about being fictional creatures in someone else’s universe). Thanks to the twin powers of search engines and personal vanity, putting someone’s name on something on the Internet is tantamount to inviting their presence, not unlike (depending on your perspective) invoking angels or demons. And we all know how much trouble that class of creature can be.
Henceforth, the above observation is to be known as the Law of Internet Invocation: “If you name them, they will come.”
This is assuming no one else has yet made this observation (which I’m sure someone has).
In fact someone has checked Google to see if anyone else has made the observation and then codified it into a law: As far as they can see, no one has. So until further notice, I’m canonical! Thank you and good night.
The Law of Internet Invocation is, I should note, the logical corollary of another “Internet Law” I’ve suggested in the past, The Law of Online Communication, which states: Anything bad you ever write about someone online will get back to them sooner or later. And the reason for both is simple: The Internet archives itself, and people want to know what other people think of them. There may be a human being who, when confronted with an Internet-wide search engine, didn’t type in his or her own name within the first hour to see what popped up. But if they exist, I haven’t met them. Furthermore, I don’t know if I’m psychologically ready to meet someone with such lack of ego.
The odd thing — to me, at least, is how little-known these laws seem to be. Even now, a decade into the Internet era, people are famously being surprised and shocked that other people are actually using the Internet — and using it to see what people are saying about them — and some of them don’t quite comprehend just how easy it is to follow your name back to a place from which it is invoked.
I personally had an experience with the latter when my name was invoked on an newsgroup called alt.support.chronic-pain. In addition to discussions about chronic pain, some members of the newsgroup spend a lot of time sniping at other members of the newsgroup (making it, in this respect, like every other newsgroup known to man). At some point in December, one of the denizens of the group got it into his head that one of his mortal enemies, a poster going by the name of “Juba,” was actually me (this was based on the fact that Juba claimed to have written an article for an Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader book, a book series to which I am a frequent contributor). I discovered the comment while checking my name on Google Groups, dropped over to the newsgroup and posted a message that said, nope, he’s not me.
Which resulted, probably predictably, in a spasm of utter non-belief, and questions like: Well, if you’re not him, then how did you know we were talking about you? You only showed up after we said you were him, therefore you must be him. And so on. I noted how I found the site and why I posted the refutation (I don’t mind being known as a jerk, but I prefer being known as a jerk for things I actually do), but you know how it is. There’s no telling some people. So now I’m forever someone I’m not on that newsgroup. But for the record: I don’t taunt people in chronic pain. That just seems mean.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit the Law of Internet Invocation applies more to me than to most people, for the simple reason that I have a monstrous ego and I like seeing what people have to say about me and what I do, both positive and negative. But I strongly suspect it works for most people who spend any amount of time on the Web, and particularly people who write online in journals and blogs (what is Trackback but a software expression of the LoII?). And if those people are also book authors — who are as a class susceptible to obsessive behavior regarding comments and criticism — well, you might as well lay out a table of snacks. They’ll be around.
The real test of ego, of course, is if those you invoke feel compelled to comment on what you’ve written. To be clear: Mostly, I would. Try it and see.