Around this time every year, Google delivers a digital bon bon to anyone with a wisp of curiosity and a moment of spare time. Chalked full of current data on what's trending up and down in Internet searches, the Google Zeitgeist resembles a stock market of hotness, momentum, waxing or waning influence and interest. If you're dying to know whether Justin Bieber is still the hottest thing, this is the place to find out.
But I quickly click past the contemporary cultural searches to an area Google politely if somewhat condescendingly labels "Quirky." Here resides my favorite section: the "How To" searches. These are the private spaces where people furtively express their personal aspirations, their desires to improve themselves and the things they wished they'd once taken the time to learn, and may yet make the effort.
The following are the top ten How To searches by year going back to 2006 (sorry about the formatting).
A few observations. First, in good times and bad people are consistently interested in being better kissers, flirters, hackers and drawers. I suspect some enterprising sociology grad student could earn her PhD if she could draw a connection between those activities. Also, what's the deal with crafts? Whether it's knitting, crotchet, or similar hand craft, at least one of them makes the top ten every year. Although, interestingly it's not always the same one. It's a curiosity what makes macrame this year's Justin Bieber of crafts. Perhaps there's a different PhD in the making for that one. Finally, somewhere between 2006 and 2007 people shifted from levitating to meditating, which seems infinitely more achievable, if less aspirational.
Then, there's the great outlier. In all of the years I've been amusing myself with this little skylark, there's been only one in which a How To search on the topic of personal finance even made the list. That was How To Refinance, which was the #1 How To search in 2006. Of course, by 2008 the mortgage market had completely melted down; no PhD thesis required to draw the connection.
When the absolute number one thing on our collective minds is how to wring a few percentage points out of our mortgages, or get a loan without a job or collateral, bad news is on the way. I can't help shaking my head a bit that this most unusual top ten list was published in December of 2006, a full 15 months ahead of Bear Stearns and nearly 20 months before Lehman Brothers. Someone was whispering breathlessly in our ears, but we weren't listening. The evidence is pretty convincing that we are all better off when we stick with kissing and drawing.