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In the age of Google, it's not at all surprising to realize that our greatest confidant and holder of our deepest secrets is a simple search bar with a flickering cursor. Free of others' judgments, we can ask it any question we like, at any time during the day, and get an answer in a fraction of a second.
From queries like "What is the meaning of life?" to "What is twerking?" the things we search for on Google speak volumes about the cultural zeitgeist of our times. While this collective consciousness was once the subject of hours of study by philosophers and novelists, today all you need is an Internet connection and a little tool called Google Trends to check our nation's cultural pulse.
At Visme, we got a little curious to see just how much our interests and concerns have changed over time, so we visualized a few surprising (and some disturbing) search trends over the last 12 years. Here is what we found...
Many thought leaders and psychologists have questioned whether we're living through an epidemic of narcissism, spurred by social media, attention-seeking celebrities and self-absorbed millennials. Since we're all evidently so self-aware, it makes sense that we would go to Google to ask whether we fit the description of a narcissist or not.
As seen in the time-lapse map above, the volume of Google searches for the word "narcissist" has grown exponentially in the last 12 years (the darker the color of the state, the greater the relative search volume). The trend seems to follow the same pattern exhibited by other related search terms such as "millennial" and "selfie."
In the Food & Drink category, turmeric, the main spice in curry, has exploded in popularity over the last few years. According to Google's Food Trends report, the exponential growth is a result of Americans' growing desire to learn about the effects and benefits of functional foods and how best to use them in their recipes.
For example, when Americans search for YouTube videos on turmeric, they're searching for how to use the ingredient to combat everything from arthritis and joint pain to high cholesterol and skin disorders.
Other notable rising stars in this category include the search terms "Pho" (a Vietnamese dish), "pork shoulder," "mug cake" and "rigatoni."
The indispensable fluid "water" consistently appears year after year at the top of the most searched list of the Food & Drink category.
Besides an epidemic of narcissism, we also seem to be living through a so-called wisdom epidemic in which inspiration is becoming increasingly commoditized. Just take a look at your Instagram or Facebook feeds to find all kinds of generic motivational quotes with overused boat and ocean metaphors.
In line with this trend, the search for "motivational quotes" and "inspirational quotes" has steadily increased in the past decade.
Another interesting trend that is perhaps correlated to the increasing volume of searches for "finding purpose" is the steady increase in searches for "bible verses" and "daily horoscope."
As expected, the Bible belt states exhibit the most activity in terms of searches for "bible verses," while the rest of the nation, especially the northeastern region, registers the most searches for "daily horoscope."
One surprising trend, perhaps due to the fact that women are reportedly cheating as much as men, is the steady and notorious increase in the number of searches for "cheating wife," which is even greater than the search for "cheating husband" (this is assuming that the term is not a variation of "cheating on wife," in which case it is still interesting to note that both are steadily increasing over time.)
In the category of Family & Relationships, we also found that the search for the term "pick up lines" is increasing with every passing year, reaching its peak during February, presumably near Valentine's Day.
Both of these search trends just go to show that as time goes on, Americans are increasingly likely to confide Google with their deepest insecurities and burning questions.
One particularly revealing trend is the rise in the number of searches for "how to have a miscarriage" or "how to self abort." According to New York Times columnist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, this is most likely due to the closing of abortion clinics in states where it is becoming increasingly difficult to get an abortion.
If you look at the following time-lapse map, you'll see that the volume of searches for these terms is greatest in states where there are major abortion restrictions, such as Texas and Tennessee.
Google Trends also reveals that issues such as discrimination and identity relations are increasingly on people's minds. If you look at the search volumes for terms like "bigotry," "white privilege," "racism definition," "xenophobia," "ageist" and "misogyny," you'll see a sustained increase in the last six to seven years.
Thanks to Susan Cain's widely popular book Quiet, the need to understand introverts and how to tap into their hidden talents has soared in the past four years. Just look at the volume of searches for "introvert" or "extraversion and introversion" and you'll see a steady increase since 2007.
In accordance with the growing support for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana (58% support it today versus 12% in 1969), the search volume for terms like "weed," "cannabis" and "kush" has increased exponentially in the last decade.
Perhaps as a result of the rise in stay-at-home mothers and telecommuting options, the number of searches for terms related to "jobs from home," "flexible jobs," "work from home" and "stay at home moms" has increased in a sustained manner over the past 12 years.
At the same time, searches for "daycare" and "babysitter" has increased at a relatively slow pace over the last 12 years.
Did you find any of these trends particularly surprising or revealing? Do you know of any search trends you don't see here? If so, we'd love to hear from you. Just drop us a line in the comments section below, and we'll get back to you.