Since I read Zadie Smith's On Beauty last December I've thought about it more than I'd have expected to given that it struck me at the time as being kind of overstuffed - or kind of a "fragmented stew", perhaps. (If you've read it too, you might enjoy Amardeep Singh's recent Valve post, about the novel & what it suggests about how poststructuralist art theory copes - or fails to cope - with aesthetic pleasures of various kinds.)
One of the elements among the stuffing that I did think was perfectly judged, as in it had the exact density of a chunk of real lived experience, was the strand of commentary on Googling, specifically on students Googling their professors, but with an obvious parallel in any authority figure with a visible public record being Googled by many less conspicuous people under his or her jurisdiction. (See p 142 for instance.) The Googling is done in the interests of coldly assessing the Googled One's social cachet and status and influence and general utility to the Googler, and all the Googled One's efforts to be charming and worthwhile and interesting in person are defeated in advance by the poor impression left by his involuntary internet presence. (I'm afraid I read this as deriving somehow from the novelist's own experience of celebrity, but since it carries on from ideas started in The Autograph Man that's probably not right.) "Googling" - which I associate with ogling and goggling and other sleazy voyeurisms - is a fitting name for this activity.
I suppose this sort of problem has been around exactly as long as celebrity culture, but the self-published internet rolls it out to a vastly greater number of people and makes it all a great deal more personal and intimate. And the live, comment-enabled, realtime self-published blogosphere makes it more personal and intimate still.
(A small digression: there are some times when a blogger is justified in wishing to say something about some public figure without running the risk of having that person show up themselves; for these occasions, a very clever Duck had the idea of using an acrostic to spell out the name & whatever is to be said about it. This has the extra benefit of quarantining the post from every species of Googler, confining its readership to those who were there already, so to speak.)
Searching for information on the net about an ordinary living person is not a psychologically simple event. To begin with, in order to search for a person you do need to know something about them in the first place - in many cases you already have the option of asking for information from the person directly, so the connotation of stealthiness is inbuilt from the start. Along with the weird passive-aggressive projections inherent in the scenario outlined above, there is also the stigma attached, in some quarters, to searching for yourself - autogoogling or the tellingly named vanity googling - though I think the widespread likening of this practice to "checking for lumps" is nearer to the mark. At the bottom of both points of view is the assumption that representations of the self on the internet are outside personal control in an ominous and negative way. (I like to think that this is basically not true and unless you independently make a major arsehole of yourself you're unlikely to be seriously impugned.)
Which is why it gives me a small shock and an irrational nasty feeling when my blog is visited by a public figure who I've mentioned by name, as happened yesterday - Sandy McCutcheon commented on a recent post (rant really) triggered by some nonsense from the pen of Gerard Henderson. I hadn't said anything nasty about Sandy (whose comment was perfectly chipper) so why the discomfort? Partly, I think, because I had offhandedly alluded to him as a sort of mediascape thing or object in the same modality as a newspaper or a magazine, then he unexpectedly showed up in real person mode, and it can't be altogether nice to read about yourself represented so flatly. I also imagine, perhaps wrongly, that most autogoogling is done defensively and with the expectation that some of the material turned up will be childish or malicious. (Edit: deleted a few lines, see comments re: why)
The main reason this kind of unforeseen visitor is startling, though, is that it's most uncanny, like a magic summons in a story: intone the Name and the genie will appear! M.R. James has several stories about unsuspecting antiquarians who call up ghosts and vampires by repeating incantations they don't know the meaning of; Rumpelstiltskin and other Name of the Helper folktales get at the same material. No matter how much you know about the workings of Technorati and so forth, it still feels like strong magic when the Call is Answered.
I intended to finish off this post with a small experiment in blog occultism: into a chunk of some nineteenth-century novel I meant to insert various people's names and wait to see how many of them would follow the trail of breadcrumbs. But having written all that about ghosts and spirits and so forth I'm actually a bit scared to mess with forces beyond my control!