I just finished The Member of the Wedding, a 1946 novel by Carson McCullers. It was a pearl of a book, the story of Frankie Jasmine Addams, a young girl coming of age with the help of Berenice, her wise black caretaker. I was struck by how the following passage captures the mystery of how online reputations develop, and how we early adopters are coming of age, too, learning the ways of a new world with awkward enthusiasm:
“But still it would be a confusion,” Berenice insisted. “Suppose we all suddenly changed to entirely different names. Nobody would ever know who anybody was talking about. The whole world would go crazy.”
“I don’t see–“
“Because things accumulate around your name,” said Berenice. “You have a name and one thing after another happens to you, and you behave in various ways and do things, so that soon the name begins to have a meaning. Things have accumulated around the name. If it is bad and you have a bad reputation, then you just can’t jump out of your name and escape like that. And if it is good and you have a good reputation, then you should be content and satisfied.”
“But what had accumulated around my old name?” F. Jasmine asked. Then, when Berenice did not reply at once, F. Jasmine answered her own question. “Nothing! See? My name just didn’t mean anything.”
“Well, that’s not exactly so,” said Berenice. “People think of Frankie Addams and it brings to mind that Frankie is finished with the B section of the seventh grade. And Frankie found the golden egg at the Baptist Easter Hunt. And Frankie lives on Grove Street and —–“
“But those things are nothing,” F. Jasmine said. “See? They’re not worth while. Nothing ever happened to me.”
“But it will,” said Berenice. “Things will happen.”
“What?” F. Jasmine asked.
Berenice sighed and reached for the Chesterfield package inside her bosom. “You pin me down like that and I can’t tell you truthfully. If I could I would be a wizard. I wouldn’t be sitting here in this kitchen right now, but making a fine living on Wall Street as a wizard. All I can say is that things will happen. Just what, I don’t know.”
That’s the way it feels to me as I explore Twitter and the rest of the Internet-Socnet-New Media world. Things are happening. Each of our names is beginning to have a meaning.