Bill Tancer wrote a book back in 2008 called Click. The general premise was that the way in which we search and browse the Internet can actually reveal a lot about ourselves — both as individuals and as society at large. It notes how “we tell Google what we want, who we’re interested in, how we are feeling” and makes the salient point that “we are what we search for.”
This is why Google’s annual Zeitgeist, a review of the world’s most popular searches and trends of the previous year, makes for such an intriguing cross-section of cultural examination. In the digital age, our online searches — not unlike like the cave paintings, city ruins or ancient scrolls of bygone eras — become valuable artifacts of our fleeting life and times on Earth.
Which brings me to Miley Cyrus. Naturally. Because of the 5,992,000,000 Google searches done around the world each day (yes, that’s over 2.16 trillion in 2013 alone), it is truly a wonder to see how global interests concentrate around certain people, places and events throughout the year – particularly the popularity of people like Miley .
Granted, certain search queries are deservedly predictable. Nelson Mandela was the most searched field in 2013 — all the more impressive given the majority of these searches came on the heels of his death toward the very end of the calendar year. Global news events such as the 2014 FIFA World Cup (12th most popular search) and intense human interests stories such as the Trayvon Martin case (40th most popular search) had understandably captivated widespread attention. And, really, how could heartwarming stories like The Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Batkid (100th most popular search) not go viral?
But then you consider things like this:
Robin Thicke was the 33rd most searched item in 2013 — a whopping 64 spots ahead of Edward Snowden, a man who the New York Times recently praised as a whistleblower of historic proportions and one who “has done his country a great service.”
There were more web searches for Grand Theft Auto 5 cheat codes than there was for news, information or backstory on the Syrian Conflict, a devastating geopolitical crisis that recently topped a death toll of 115,000 this past October (35th most popular search versus 65th most popular search, respectively).
The ‘New Pope’ (81st most popular search) was merely a blip compared to ‘Kim Kardashian’s Baby’ (44th most popular search). The ‘Government Shutdown’ couldn’t match the release of ‘Playstation 4′. And even the tragedy of the ‘Boston Marathon’ got nudged out by, yes, you guessed it, the ‘Harlem Shake’ (6th most popular search versus the 5th most popular search, respectively).
Now, it would be much too easy to insert some snide cultural commentary here — to lambaste the seemingly lowbrow brain waste of contemporary 21st century civilization. But I am no pundit. I am just a person. Just like you. One who deploys countless online searches every single day. One who has his browser homepage set to a blank Google search bar with a blinking cursor, waiting ever so patiently at virtually any moment to span the world for whatever nugget of information may be needed at the click of a button.
So, yes, we certainly are what we search for. Even if that means, as Robin Thicke so beautifully supplicates in his most recent musical masterpiece: we’re all just animals, it’s in our nature and we can be liberated because we’re all the hottest bitches in this place.
 Click, Bill Tancer, 2008
 Google Official History, comScore, 2014