By Mari Silbey
Posting in Technology
Searching on years in the future versus years in the past may indicate economic status
It doesn't pay to live in the past, at least not according to a study published recently in the journal Nature. A group of academics hailing from Massachusetts, London and Switzerland recently analyzed Google search queries and found a significant correlation between populations that search on time periods in the future and national gross domestic product. The study considered the future orientation index for 45 countries, plotting the number of searches that included one year in the future versus those that included one year in the past. Using that analysis, the researchers discovered that countries with a higher future-to-past ratio tended also to be countries with a higher GDP.
From the study:
The analysis described here shows that the value of this [future orientation] index for 45 countries in 2010 is correlated with a key economic indicator, per capita GDP. Our results are consistent with the intriguing possibility that there is a relationship between the economic success of a country and the information seeking behaviour of its citizens online.
There are a variety of factors that could impact why different populations search on years in the future versus years in the past. Perhaps people focus on the past more when Internet connectivity is relatively new because it’s the first time they have access to mass quantities of historical data. Or perhaps countries with longer histories search more frequently on the past.
The study authors have their own theories:
Firstly, these findings may reflect international differences in attention to the future and the past, where a focus on the future supports economic success. Secondly, these findings may reflect international differences in the type of information sought online, perhaps due to economic influences on available Internet infrastructure.
Whatever the reason for the correlation, the research here suggests there may be other variable comparisons possible that align search behavior with the national attributes of different populations. And the more access we have to big public data, the more we’ll be able to see where those relationships exist, and maybe even what they mean.
Apr 17, 2012
There will be some general differences between cultures, economies, geographic locations etc., and beyond being interesting there will no doubt be some valuable results in plying the data. But the real meat in 'big data' is going to be gleaning what we all have in common, regardless of any circumstance. Edward Bernays would be drooling uncontrollably at the opportunity to find the least common denominator in the actual inner workings of such a vast number of people's brains.
In Propaganda (1928), Bernays argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy: ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind..... People who show an ounce of independent thinking are shouted down by the mob mentality so common today. People have become drones to the propaganda.