"Get There First Or Not At All"

Ben Greenman finds:

The Internet’s search capabilities, which permit easy detection of unoriginality, also have a chilling effect on originality.

An example: There’s a guy in my neighborhood who dresses exactly like Bruce Springsteen, circa 1975. He has the jeans. He has the cap. He has the beard. After seeing him a handful of times on the street, I nicknamed him “Born to Rerun.” It made me laugh, for a second. It was a pointless little joke, no more than that. Out of curiosity, I searched for the phrase, which I thought I had inventedor rather, which I had invented, at least for my purposes. I discovered, predictably, that the phrase has been used before, frequently: in 2003 by Entertainment Weekly, last year by a fan posting a review of “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and on and on.

I’d like to report that I don’t care about those earlier occurrences, that I brushed them off and moved on, but the fact is that I do care. It’s deflating to learn that your original idea, no matter how trivial, has already made an appearance. Before the Internet, I might have kept that pointless little joke alive in my head. It might have ripened into something or it might have died on the vine. But it would have been my tomato. Now, the process works differently. The incontrovertible proof that the phrase was already circulating made it difficult, if not impossible, for me to claim it as my own. It acquired the feel of something shoddy and second-hand, and I jettisoned it.