We Are What We Search? Hopefully Not!

First published December 29, 2005 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

To judge from the various most-popular-search lists that are showing up as the year draws to a close, the average search user is a pubescent male, with an IQ that hovers in the low 90’s, and who spends an unhealthy amount of time in his room. I have said, on several occasions, that our search patterns are a reflection of our society. If that’s true, our society’s intellect is about as deep as the ring left by a Starbucks coffee cup.

When I saw the first list come in my e-mail, I don’t know why I was surprised. After all, Pamela Anderson holds the record as the most searched-for term for the past decade, and Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are breathing down her neck. But come on; are we really as shallow as our searches seem to indicate?

Lycos has just released its list for the past year. The top 10 terms for 2005 are:
Paris Hilton
Pamela Anderson
Britney Spears
Poker
Dragonball
Jennifer Lopez
WWE
Pokemon
Playstation
Hurricane Katrina

There we have it, the greatest depository of information every assembled, instantly accessible to all who seek knowledge and enlightenment, and Paris Hilton is the best we can do? And Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, (although arguably, Paris, Pam and Britney all qualify in this category) barely made the list?

Maybe it’s just Lycos users that are scrapping the bottom of the online barrel. So I checked out Google’s Zeitgeist and Yahoo! Buzz.

Yahoo!’s Buzz is at least a little more balanced on gender. The top 10?
Britney Spears
50 Cent
Cartoon Network
Mariah Carey
Green Day
Jessica Simpson
Paris Hilton
Eminem
Ciara
Lindsay Lohan

Still not a fertile recruitment bed for MENSA, I’m guessing.

Google doesn’t publish the overall top 10, instead breaking them up into categories and top gainers. Perhaps this is their way of defending their users’ intellectual reputation. But if the top news searches are any indication, there are very few Google users following in Edward R. Murrow’s footsteps. Topping the list was Janet Jackson, with such compelling news stories as xbox 360, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Michael Jackson and yes, the omnipresent Ms. Spears also making the list.

And Newton Minnow called commercial television a vast wasteland!

But wait a minute. Yahoo! Buzz lets you see what other cultures are searching for. How does the U.S. stack up against the world?

You’ll be happy to know the French are just as boorish, with the regular suspects, Britney, Jennifer Lopez and Paris (the scantily clad debutante, not the city) showing up on their list. Toss in Jessica Alba for good measure. The Germans show a disturbing dichotomy in their search habits, with half of the terms showing Teutonic practicality and the other half being just plain kinky. On one hand you have “trip planner,” “weather” and “cheap flights,” and on the other you have “erotica” and “partner swapping.” Interestingly, the Germans don’t seem as star-struck as the rest of the world. The only celebrity to make the list was Sarah Connor, a German pop star.

How about my fellow Canadians? Well, I wish I could report differently, but our national stereotype seems rooted in fact. For seven months out of 12, we’re searching for Hockey.

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