A Year of Good

December 21, 2018

Take a moment to think about all the online searches you’ve performed in your lifetime.

Depending on your age, profession or life stage, it could be hundreds of searches a year. Thousands, even.

Thinking back on your own search history, what would you find? Would it reveal a glimpse into your own life story?

How much should I spend on a car?

How do I write a resume?

How do I apply for a home loan?

How do I know if I’m in love?

It should, because a search engine is one of the few places a person is completely, 100 percent honest.

Think about it. You probably type words or questions into a search bar you may never verbalize—not even with your family or closest friends.

It’s a theory explored in the book Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, wherein author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz shares that he had this “aha moment” when he stumbled upon Google Trends, the popular tool that provides search volume for words or phrases typed into the search bar—thereby identifying search trends.

“In other words, people’s search for information is, in itself, information,” he writes. “When and where they search for facts, quotes, jokes, places, persons, things, or help, it turns out, can tell us a lot more about what they really think, really desire, really fear, and really do than anyone might have guessed. This is especially true since people sometimes don’t so much query Google as confide in it: ‘I hate my boss.’ ‘I am drunk.’ ‘My dad hit me.’”

“…The power of Google searches is not that they can tell us that God is popular down South, the Knicks are popular in New York City, or that I’m not popular anywhere. Any survey could tell you that,” Stephens-Davidowitz continues. “The power in Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else.”

With an estimated 40,000 search queries every second and 3.5 billion searches every day, it might appear that Google actually knows us more than our closest confidant.

So, what does this all mean?

While searches for the World Cup, Hurricane Florence and Meghan Markle topped the list this year, Google recently revealed that the top theme of searches on Google were for things that were good.

Because as it turns out, we tend to seek out what’s good in the world.

Of course. Who doesn’t like watching videos of a tear-jerking reunion between a child and his mom who just arrived home after serving our country overseas for the past 18 months? Or a young child donning a superhero cape and handing out sandwiches to the homeless?

A woman beaming as she points to the “I voted” sticker on her shirt. The group of young soccer players rescued from a mine in Thailand.

A desire to consume something good can come during times of strife—war and famine, heartache and pain—and even when things are, well…good. We always want to hear about all the good things happening in the world.

It’s not too surprising, then, that the search for good things in the world will return more than 6 billion results—likely more by the time you read this article.

And if what Stephens-Davidowitz is saying is true—that we’ll only ask Google what we truly feel and desire—then that is something to feel pretty good about.