Google released its most popular searches of 2012 and accompanying film yesterday.
The film is celebratory of human achievement—highlighting athletes, entertainers, politicians, amazing feats, survivors, and mostly, Google itself.
But how can we blame them? The first time I used google as a verb, I was introducing the writer Mat Johnson at a reading at Rutgers-Camden. I talked about his work but had a lot of information on his life and awards. As he took the podium he said, “How did you know all the stuff about me?”
I said, “I googled you.” Some in the audience tittered, thinking I was being provocative.
Less than 10 years later, I doubt there’s an American who doesn’t know what “googling” means, let alone doesn’t do it daily. When trying to bring up a site with even the simplest of addresses, like pbq.drexel.edu, my students seem more inclined to key the words into the Google search bar rather than the address into the URL window. My friend Marion likes to challenge people to NOT pick up their phones and google something when “needing” information during a conversation. Google spin-off and fun-with-Google sites abound, my favorite being Let Me Google That for You.
Guessing the most popular searches might be a fun party game this holiday season. They’re not hard to determine: Whitney Houston; Gangnam style, and Hurricane Sandy. For me, those three searches exemplify Americans, thereby validating Google’s rather pompous use of the term “zeitgeist.” A fallen entertainer, an inexplicably popular song and video, and a natural disaster—sounds about right for American zeitgeist at any given moment.
Here is another easy one: Kate Middleton was the #2 most-searched-for person in 2012. But, the event that incited the most searches was not the wedding, and not the pregnancy, but—say it with me—the topless photos!
If I ask you what Mitt Romney will be most remembered for, I’ll bet that “Big Bird” and “binders full of women” would be in your top five, and you’d be right, as those search terms, along with accompanying memes, were most frequently linked with his name.
The acronym memes most popular this year were TBH, YOLO, SMH. But this is my favorite “meme moment”: After the stingray photobomb image went viral, one of the women in the picture, Sarah Bourland, said, “I have reached meme status!”
But, poor Sarah, no one will remember you. Look at the list of top trending people yourself and see how many of the names you’ll have to re-google. Just like we count on the Internet to tell us the truth, we count on it to remember things for us, since apparently, we cannot remember things for ourselves. Our shaky collective memory is best exemplified by Morgan Freeman, who “died” twice this fall, once from falling off a cliff.
Despite a death hoax in September, in mid-October rumors circulalated again, and were picked up by legitimate websites. Within hours, someone created a Facebook memorial page (of course), which received hundreds of thousands of “likes” (of course, who doesn’t like God and wouldn’t feel bad if he died?). How did Freeman set the record straight? Via his own FB page, saying: “Like Mark Twain, I keep reading that I have died. I hope those stories are not true … but if they are, I’m happy to report that my afterlife seems identical to my life when I was alive.”
Like questions of life after death, some of the top questions on Ask.com seem more philosophical than concrete, like “Why was Trayvon Martin shot?” and “Who is Michael Clark?” and “What does CTFU mean?”
Google released other news yesterday, that may please or disappoint you: They’ve changed the computer program that delivers the results of your search, so that you won’t accidentally fall into porn. Personally, I’m relieved. No lie: Just last week, I was looking for accessories for my shop vac. I put “accessories” “vacuum” and the brand name of the machine, “Swinger” in the Google search engine. I now have images in my head that I still can’t shake.