Thursday, December 18, 2014

Spirit of the times – 2014

It’s that time of year when Google talks about what we were interested in knowing about in the year. Zeitgeist, they call it, which is a wonderful German word that means “spirit of the times”.

The video above, “Google – Year in Search 2014” shows some of what we searched for this year. They also have a companion site that helps people explore some of what the video was talking about.

But the main Zeitgeist lists require more clicking.

The global top ten “Trending Searches” for 2014: 1 Robin Williams, 2 World Cup, 3 Ebola, 4 Malaysia Airlines, 5 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, 6 Flappy Bird, 7 Conchita Wurst, 8 ISIS, 9 Frozen, 10 Sochi Olympics. This list reflects things from around the world, even if it has a largely US focus. This may mean US users dominate searches, or it could simply indicate the global reach of US culture (like Robin Williams). However, the global list—and many country lists reinforce the fact—has some things are truly global, like Flappy Bird (see the other lists below).

Despite the reach of US culture and/or possible dominance of US users, or shared global things, some clearly international things made the list, too. The World Cup, for example, Conchita Wurst, and the Sochi Olympics were all outside the USA. See the next list for more on all these.

The list for the USA is very similar to the global list—in fact, the top four were the same as for the global list. However, after the top four, things are in a different order: 5 Flappy Bird, 6 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, 7 ISIS, 8 Ferguson, 9 Frozen, 10 Ukraine.

I think that the main reason for the fact that Ferguson and Ukraine were on this list is that both were heavily covered in the US news, apparently more so than the Sochi Olympics. Also, since most Americans have never even heard of Eurovision, they’d have no idea who Conchita Wurst is. The fact that the World Cup was second on the global and US lists may show that interest in soccer is growing in the USA.

As is true for most countries’ lists, New Zealand’s List shows some interesting differences with the global list: 1 FIFA World Cup, 2 Robin Williams, 3 Commonwealth Games, 4 Malaysia Airlines, 5 iPhone 6, 6 Jennifer Lawrence, 7 Charlotte Dawson, 8 Flappy Bird, 9 Spark, 10 Ebola.

The reason our list has “FIFA World Cup” may be because the Rugby World Cup is a much bigger deal in New Zealand, and because it was always referred to that way in our media and TV coverage. The Commonwealth Games are similarly important to New Zealand, and less so to non-Commonwealth countries, as you’d expect.

While I personally think New Zealanders’ interest in Jennifer Lawrence is interesting, I had to—ahem!—Google her to find out who she is. Charlotte Dawson’s is a tragic tale of depression that led to suicide. She was a NZ-born TV presenter who had been well-known here, before moving back to Australia, where her career began. She later complained people were bullying her on Twitter, which apparently led to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. She said the bullying continued, and that, combined with other personal problems, allegedly led to her suicide. Ironically, had she died in New Zealand, I’m not sure I’d be allowed to say so much about the circumstances of her death, due to our rather antique coronial law.

An item unfamiliar to non-New Zealanders—and, perhaps, some Kiwis, too—is Spark, the incredibly silly new brand name for Telecom New Zealand, which provides fixed-line and mobile telephone service and Internet service. Also, the presence of iPhone 6 on our list is probably at least in part about people finding out where to buy them, and when, since we get them after the US and Australia, and, because we don’t have any Apple Stores, sellers aren’t necessarily obvious.

In general, I think that these lists provide an interesting snapshot of what people wanted to know about in various parts of the world this year (I also think the other lists in this series fascinating for more sociological reasons). It’s important to note, though, that people didn’t necessarily do these searches because they didn’t know anything about the topic they were searching for; in most cases, they probably simply wanted more information (or, in the case of, say, the FIFA World Cup, maybe they wanted to buy merchandise).

So, search away! And let’s see what the Zeitgeist is like next year; bet it’ll be similar in most ways.

Related: As far as I can tell, the only other time I talked about this was back in 2011.


rogerogreen said...

I remember writing, probably in my blog, that I'm not a really zetgeisty guy.Which is to say, until today, I had NO idea what Flappy Bird was, never heard of it. Most Americans care about the World Cup as long as we're in it, though I know we watched it past that point. (I picked Argentina to win it all early on - figured the new pope would have greater pull).

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I have Flappy Bird on my phone and iPad, so I was well aware of it (and frustrated by it…). That's a good point about the FIFA World Cup, and probably explains why it was so high on the US search list.