I wouldn’t say my full first and last name are extremely common in the U.S., but I always knew if I Googled my name, I’d find more than a couple of other people with my name out there, leading their own lives with their own careers and dreams.

I have a personal Gmail address with my full first name, middle initial, and last name. I’ve used it since starting high school in 2007. Every so often, I get an email that was clearly not meant for me. Sometimes it’s a minor annoyance, but other times it’s been interesting to see what other people with my name are up to.

Some of the more mundane emails I’ve gotten on accident were a subscription to REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) promotions and a confirmation of yoga class registration at a studio in New York City. I guess those other “me”s like to stay fit and active.

A couple emails were more fascinating, and I wish that I’d kept them to reference now. I’m writing with hazy memories. One email was meant for people enrolled in a research study, providing instructions on when they were to report to give blood samples before and after running long distances. Another was a group message for students in a political organization that was fighting for the rights of women in African countries. Another time I got a message from women who were planning a sorority reunion.

The most sensitive emails I ever got were flight confirmations and itineraries for 2 separate round-trip flights, which Gmail unhelpfully auto-added to my Google calendar too. I actually had the power to sabotage this woman’s seat choice or cancel her reservation (I didn’t touch a thing). I managed to find the right person on Twitter and let her know, and then I forwarded the emails to her. Her email was just one letter different from mine. In the spying process, I learned her husband’s name and saw evidence of her marathon running hobby.

Is it creepy to see into other people’s personal lives, even if it’s unintentional? Yes. In another way, though, it’s a reality check. This is what someone else’s life looks like; what do I want my life to look like? If another “me” runs marathons, takes a trip somewhere, or joins an organization for a good cause, what’s stopping me from doing something new too?

I also wonder, has anyone out there received emails meant for me? Were they anything worth reading?

Anyway, I’ll be changing my last name next year after getting married. Switching to a new email account using my pretty rare future surname may put an end to my glimpses into the lives of other people. I’ll miss it, I think.


Photo by Louis Magnotti