Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

03 Jul 2002, 8:37 a.m.

I thought about the weblog fad that disturbed me when…

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2002 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I thought about the weblog fad that disturbed me when I tried it: googling your own first name in the "So-and-so is" phrase and posting sentences that come up. It strikes me that this is a high-tech version of an Indian fable, which I read about in Amar Chitra Katha comic books:

There's a young man whose name is Lowly. He's kind and helpful, and everyone likes him, but he's unhappy because he feels that his name degrades him.

So one day, his guru (teacher) asks him why he's so sad, and Lowly tells the guru that he wishes he could change his name. The guru says, "All right, go around town for a bit and see if you find any names you like." (At least, I think that's what he says; he may just say, "Walk around town for a bit and see if you still feel that way.")

Lowly goes into town and sees a beggar girl being beaten up for not bringing home enough money. He gives the mother some money, and learns that the girl's name is Rich.

He sees a man's corpse being carried to a funeral, and learns that the man's name was Life.

On his way home, he helps a man lost in the forest, and learns that his name is Guide.

At every step, when he evinces surprise, people say, "What do you mean? Names don't determine who we are. They're just labels for telling who's who." And so on.

So he finally returns to his guru and says that he doesn't want to change his name after all, because now he knows that names don't really matter.

So this searching-for-my-own-name process similarly disoriented me by dissociating me and my name. I saw mentions of all these other Sumanas doing things I've never done. Some of them were even of the opposite sex. So I had to stop thinking, "Sumana is me, I am Sumana." Instead, I had to think, "I am me, and Sumana is a label for who I am, and not a unique label either."

I could imagine a variant of the folktale in which Lowly runs into another person named Lowly who is prosperous and a pillar of the community, or several people named Lowly who move in various socioeconomic circles. Not as fun as the ACK version, but more disorienting in a google-your-own-name, Nowhere Man sort of way.