When times are uncertain, people look for answers. Once our ancestors sought out seers, prophets and mystics. Now we type our queries into search engines.
Google’s Year in Search 2020 provides a snapshot of the fears, anxieties, distractions and obsessions of an extraordinary year. Some of our questions are reassuringly similar wherever we are in the world; others illuminate our cultural quirks and differences.
Google has analyzed the billions of search requests it processes every day, and identified the terms that have had the highest spike this year compared to 2019. Unsurprisingly, “coronavirus” topped the overall list.
ABCs to Zoom
The search trends show the impact of the COVID pandemic on so many aspects of life. Relatively obscure teleconferencing company Zoom became a household name (and highly profitable business) as employees adapted to working from home, and friends and families turned to video calls instead of meeting in person.
Google Classroom was one of several online resources that provided education to millions of children affected by school closures. Searches for “how to foster a dog” reached an all-time high as social distancing triggered a yearning for the companionship of a pet.
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Bread dominated the top trending recipes as people trapped indoors during lockdowns became keen amateur bakers – although even sourdough, banana bread and naan couldn’t keep up with the booming popularity of Korean dalgona coffee and Greek dessert ekmek kataifi.
Most Googled people
Tom Hanks and Amitabh Bachchan were among the most Googled movie stars not because of their work in 2020, but as high-profile sufferers of the virus.
There were other major news stories that drove big spikes in search traffic. The US elections prompted a flood of queries, with Joe Biden the most trending person (his running mate Kamala Harris also featuring high on the list). Fans reacted in droves to the deaths of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, actor Chadwick Boseman, and Bollywood heartthrob Sushant Singh Rajput.
The death of George Floyd drew attention to racial injustice. In the US, there was a huge spike in searches asking how to help or donate to Black Lives Matter. The term “how to be an ally” even outstripped the ever popular search “how to be an influencer”.
The growing availability of internet access in India was apparent, with searches for the IPL (Indian Premier League) cricket league, “India vs New Zealand” and the election in the Indian state of Bihar all high on global lists.
Our soft spot for an against-the-odds survival story was clearly demonstrated by the huge spike in searches for NASCAR driver Ryan Newman, who walked out of hospital just days after a horrific crash during a race at Daytona.
In a year where entertainment has been at a premium, Oscar-winning Korean film Parasite, Netflix documentary Tiger King, Cardi B’s song WAP, and online multiplayer game Among Us all piqued our interest.
And when the businesses we rely on were forced to shut their doors, we looked up how to do things ourselves, from making our own hand sanitizer and face masks, to cutting hair.
The trends also offer a unique insight into our national tastes. Along with the ubiquitous bread recipes, Britons wanted to cook up a beef bourguignon, Americans were pining for Disney churros, Germans were curious about cornflakes, while in Nigeria it was something that packed more of a punch – the pornstar martini.
But sometimes it is the simplest of answers that we need. April saw a record spike in people asking “what day is it?” In a year when even that is uncertain, we are fortunate that so much knowledge is just a click away.