What happened?

A couple of boys I knew, one in high school, and one in college, always seemed to be big shots in the making. They were destined for the stars. They talked about making a splash as adults, and they acted as if they would be major successes. In high school, it was a charming, witty, redheaded boy. In college, it was a nasty, self-involved, dark-haired boy. I did not know either boy well. They were in some classes with me, that’s all. I did know a girl who had a crush on the dark-haired college boy, and I also knew a girl who was sleeping with him and very clearly hoping to marry him. To my knowledge, neither girl’s ambitions for a relationship with the college boy were achieved. What surprises me is that both of these boys, who may have been raging successes as grown men, or who might have become very average achievers, or who might even have died decades ago, are nonentities on the Internet.

Both boys might have been legends in their own minds. But they were both smart, well-educated young men of the middle/upper middle class. They had the world before them. They got academic honors, maybe even scholarships. What happened?

I expect to have lost track of the girls I went to school with, because 90 percent of American women change their last names upon marriage. I didn’t, and some women I know never married, and some retrieved maiden names after divorce. But most women still change their last names, and so they vanish unless we meet up at a reunion or there’s an Internet trail that includes their original names. I’m not much on class reunions, but I have found a couple of old girlfriends, despite name changes, through the Internet.

There could be hundreds of people with the same names as these two boys. People living or people dead. I suppose I could have the high school boy’s name wrong, but I don’t think so. I know I have the college boy’s name correctly spelled. But I have not found mention of these two people on the Internet and I am very puzzled.

Not everybody interfaces with the Internet directly. But their names are out there anyway, because their names are part of public records. If you own a house, vote in an election, get a marriage license, etc., some of that information could wind up on the web. Whether it is easily searchable is a different story. The college boy’s name is the same as an attorney’s, and with initials reversed, as a doctor’s. Their entries dominate Google. I confess I am not quite curious enough to check out all 300,000 listings that purport to have this boy’s name—but mostly, don’t.

Are these boys dead? Death alone does not keep a person’s name from the Internet. Names get added to the Internet via newspaper death notices. Through one such obituary, I read about the death of a girl I’d met in fifth grade. There also are sites that list the names on tombstones in cemeteries. I know, because I checked a cemetery list for my own immediate ancestors—and found them. So why can’t I find these two boys, alive or dead?

The Baby Boom has taken up computers in a big way, trying to stay relevant to the forefront of our culture even as we inevitably fade into history. But not these two Boomers. Maybe they are among the self-defined old? You know, the people who ally themselves with much older generations by eschewing computers? Most elderly people want absolutely nothing to do with computers and they certainly do not want their names on the Internet. These cohorts do not plan to learn any new technology or means of communication before they die. They don’t blog and they are not on Facebook or sending tweets to their posse on an hourly basis. The Baby Boom and maybe the next generation after were still raised in a writing atmosphere, though, so why isn’t there at least some record of their work on the web? Maybe these boys did not get famous after all, but you don’t have to be famous to be mentioned by someone else.

Both of these “lost boys” impressed me as driven to achieve and to succeed. Perhaps they were rather boastful about it, as young boys will be. All the more reason to expect to see their names on the net. The Internet has mentions of boys who were far quieter and more modest. Why not these guys?

So, I am left with unanswered questions. I could contact my high school and my college and try to ascertain if either institution has some knowledge about these boys. But such information is only released with the other person’s permission, and I don’t want them to know I’m interested in finding out about them. I don’t want to establish contact. We were never friends, after all; contact would be an intrusion on my part. I’d just like to satisfy my rather idle curiosity. That’s what the Internet does so well, fulfilling random wishes without much effort involved on my part. Only this time, it doesn’t.

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