Google Alerts can open up some strange doorways to a culture. ‘Famous Fix’ isn’t where you’d expect (or really want) John Cowper Powys to turn up, but there he is alongside buzzy profiles for Meghan Markle and Justin Bieber, all the exchange of celebrity gossip and crowing remarks about unwise fashion choices.
One of the main features of the site is the ‘who’s dating who’ content, giving lists of people tagged with ‘Married’, ‘Relationship’ and ‘Encounter’ labels. What was once a matter of personal affairs – intricate, many-layered emotions and relationships – are made public in the coldest form, listed like the football results.
Powys is awarded four ‘wins’, his long-time partner from middle-age Phyllis Playter, and three others: dancer Isadora Duncan, writers Frances Gregg and (even) Gamel Woolsey. No mention of wife Margaret. And no sense of the very different situations and human stories attached to each name. His brother Llewelyn also manages to get himself an entry (linked to wife Alyse Gregory and again, Gamel Woolsey). There’s Hardy and Dickens on there. Even Tolstoy (though there’s no ‘dating’ information – was someone daunted by the prospect of how all the ‘encounters’ with peasant girls could be represented?).
It’s a snapshot of our celebrity obsession, and with it, a signal of the extent to which anything can now be reduced to a matter of data. Web sites like this want big numbers, the more ‘famous’ profiles the better (which is the only way the Powys brothers could be included), meaning more users and more clicks. The bigger question is what influence this kind of desiccation will have over time to the nature and psychology of relationships.