Aside

WHEN I FIRST met my shrink, I
wasn’t so sure about him. He’s
handsome, fit, not much taller
than me, reticent. I couldn’t tell
if his reticence was disapproval
and judgment or if he was just
doing his job: staying quiet,
staying neutral. I’m new to
therapy, and, frankly, had
wanted a woman therapist, but
here I was with this silent,
unreadable man and I didn’t
know how to feel comfy about
it.
So I Googled him. I found his
Facebook page, saw that he
might be a band geek (like me),
that he seems generally
empathetic and that he has a
cute dog that sometimes wears
clothes.
That’s how I got comfortable.
A couple of weeks ago, Anna
Fels wrote for the New York
Times about patients Googling
their therapists. Written from
the perspective of a Googled
therapist, the piece cautions
against the ways in which
knowing about your doctor’s
personal life can affect the
experience of therapy. She also
acknowledged it happens in the
other direction, too: ER nurses,
for instance, are Googling their
patients to find out if they’re
criminals, or if they’re famous,
or just if they’re anything
interesting at all.
“The experience of evaluating a
patient with fresh eyes and no
prior assumptions may, for
better and for worse,
disappear,” Fels wrote.
I know that overGoogling can
pose a problem for lots of
people: Job seekers are legally
entitled to a discrimination-
free application process, for
instance. And juries, too: We all
know juries can’t (or shouldn’t)
go Googling defendants. And
what about the people out
there who screwed up five
years ago but their DUI or viral
video or racist tweet is still the
first thing that comes up? Are
we not more than our search
results?
We are. Still, I Google every
single person I meet.
Sometimes out of necessity,
sometimes out of curiosity.
And I bet you, to some extent,
do that, too. It’s a reflex now,
and like a cliche of Internet
culture: If I can access
information, why wouldn’t I?
But if you tell a person you
Googled her, she’ll recoil a bit.
(Trust me.) So, how come?
I talked to Dr. Nora Ganim
Barnes, director of the Center
for Marketing Research at
UMass Dartmouth, and she
agreed people-Googling still
seems a little gauche. Barnes
found in her report, “Reaching
the Wired Generation: How
Social Media is Changing
College Admission,” that 21
percent of colleges and
universities say they research
and recruit students on social
networks—especially students
applying for prestigious
scholarships or programs with
high visibility and limited seats.
This surprised people, she
says.
“The interesting thing to me is
that anyone’s surprised by
this,” Barnes says. She says
people didn’t expect that
“academia would stoop so low.”
“[It was like they thought
academia] should be exempt
from those kinds of activities,”
she says. “People need to
understand that we’re in a new
era right now. That era is one of
complete transparency: You
can see and hear and watch
what people do more than we
ever could before.”
Does Barnes think the Era of
Complete Transparency is a
bad thing? “Some people think
it’s good, some people think
it’s bad,” she says. “For me, it’s
just real.”
Which is why you’re basically
behind the curve if you’re not
Googling pretty much everyone
you meet. The trend is not
reserved for college
admissions and doctors and
nosy-parkers like me. There are
startups in the service industry
that capitalize this hunger for
information, using it to help
connect people with like-
minded employees.
I talked to Lynn Perkins, CEO of
Urban Sitter, a site that
connects families with
babysitters. Through Urban
Sitter, both families and sitters
create profiles using Facebook
Connect, which pulls some of
their Facebook info into an
Urban Sitter profile. From
there, profiles can be
augmented with more info
about why a sitter loves to sit
or how many kids a family has
and how old they are. There’s
also a rating system within the
site so that families can see
how reliable or skilled sitters
are, and sitters can see
whether a family, say, burns
through sitters quickly (a
warning sign), or routinely
comes home late.
“We try to give both sides a lot
of information,” Perkins says.
But even with that information,
“both sitters and parents
Google each other.” What are
they looking for? The usual
stuff: vulgar posts, criminal
records, that kind of thing. But
Perkins says she also noticed
something else sitters in
particular were trying to find:
the occupations of the parents
they’re sitting for.
“They’re looking to see where
the parents work as a potential
career connection,” Perkins
says. “We’ve had numerous
people find jobs through the
parents they’ve met through
the site. It’s super smart and
motivated of the sitters.”
It is super smart. I’m for it. I’m
for using the Internet as a
teaching tool, a networking
tool, a research tool. Why
should we deny ourselves
information?
Except I know that some people
really do suffer from
overzealous Googlers like me.
Some of our histories are
painful and our mistakes don’t
(and shouldn’t) define us. Our
grammar and spelling skills, our
political alliances, whether we
like Game of Thrones—those
don’t necessarily determine
whether we’re worth hiring or
friending. I do not let that fact
dissuade me from Googling,
but I keep that in mind so that I
can be a good Googler. A
mindful Googler.
General advice for finding a
good shrink is to shop around
for a while, meet with a few
people before you find a
connection. I know people
who’ve never found that
connection. And while some
details—taste in movies or
music or authors or whether or
not she’s a foodie—may not
really be reliable for
determining who might be a
good doctor to you, there are
things to be gleaned from the
Web about the personality and
style of a particular therapist
that can, potentially, help you
reach the right person.
Knowing what I know about my
shrink helped me decide to
pursue a relationship with him.
What I found led me to believe I
could talk to him openly about
my most secret, most anxiety-
fraught thoughts—and I was
right. I don’t know how he
would feel about the fact that I
know he has a cute little dog,
seems to live in a nice house,
and maybe was involved in
band in high school. But I hope
he’d see that all those things
signaled kindness to me. And
that was all I was really looking
for.

You Should Google Everyone Your Therapist Notwithstanding

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