Thursday, December 28, 2017

The year in search – 2017

The video above is Google’s “year in search” for 2017. This year, Google tells us, the world looked for “how”. Maybe so, but apparently the one “how” much of the world wanted to know was “how to make slime”—but that probably wouldn’t make a good video. Even so, this video is, like all the others Google has made, interesting for the portrait it paints of a the year we’re about to leave. Whether they’re accurate portraits or not is up to us to decide.

These Google videos are always emotive and maybe just a bit manipulative, in that they try to evoke a feeling or impression of what the year was like. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re not “true”—after all, people really did search for the things they pictured, and those searches really do suggest that the world was a bit at a loss this year. This was underscored, so to speak, by their music choice: Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times” (video below). There’s no wonder in any of that, especially for the USA, which is always over-represented in global searches and has had a particularly difficult year, for many reasons. But was the year really as depressing as the video suggests?

The overall rankings of the top searches people made during the year, both globally and in various countries, probably tells us more than these videos do. They also tells us the things that people in the various countries worry about or just want to know more about (like “how to make slime”). Even so, because these videos are a glance over the year we’ve just survived, I think they’re valuable.

Besides, I really like that song.

The top 5 overall searches for the world were: 1 Hurricane Irma, 2 iPhone 8, 3. iPhone X, 4 Matt Lauer, 5 Meghan Markle.

The top 5 overall searches for the USA were: 1 Hurricane Irma, 2 Matt Lauer, 3 Tom Petty, 4 Super Bowl, 5 Las Vegas shooting

The top 5 overall searches for New Zealand were:
1 Lotto result NZ, 2 America’s Cup 2017, 3 Fidget spinner, 4 Election NZ 2017, and 5 NZTA road closures. The fourth and fifth most-searched things were also the first and second (respectively) most-searched news things (Cyclone Cook was third, North Korea was fourth, and Hurricane Irma was fifth).

Looking at those searches, it suggests that people were focused on a lot of sad or depressing things, as the video suggests. This is not to suggest that there was nothing good in the year that’ about to end (and earlier this month I shared a video talking about some of those good things).

The fact is that every year has good and bad in it, and how we perceive a year is largely, though not entirely, shaped by what happens in our own lives: Whether we personally had a good year or a bad one will influence how we perceive the year in general. We all know this intuitively. And yet, we also are influenced by what happens around us, what we see and hear, what people are talking about.

It’s because our perception of a year is so highly personal that one’s reactions to a video like this, or any other “year in review”, is so personal. Whether videos like this or other reviews are accurate portraits of a year or not is up to us to decide.

And that’s how it should be. Perceiving any Sign of the Times is always up to us.

The Year in Search – 2016
The Year in Search 2015
Spirit of the Times – 2014
Visual Reminders (2011)

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