time I make my way into cyberspace to trawl for interesting news,
the words of recently deceased Kurt Vonnegut, American novelist
and social critic, come to mind. Vonnegut nobly stated: We
are here on earth to fart around. His words ring true when
it comes to the Internet. The Internet is, of course, a source of
vast information, but it is also a time waster and source of junk
par excellence. Needless to say, I find it irresistible.
most recent Internet toy I came across is Google Zeitgeist. This
tool highlights the so-called the spirit of time by
retrieving information about what people are searching for on the
Internet. It is meant to provide a snapshot of a past week, month,
or year. Google Zeitgeist excludes generic searches such as ebay,
dictionary, yellow pages, games,
maps and X-rated keywords, drawing out trends and topics
that are obsessing net users.
2006, for example, it noted that Bebo, My Space, and World Cup were
the top three Zeitgeist movers. This highlights how, particularly
among the young and restless largely in the Western world, social
networking on sites, such as Bebo and My Space, made a major impact
on the Internet that year. The soccer World Cup also sucked up hours
of Internet (not to mention TV) time.
recently, Google Zeitgeist introduced a facility to track trends
in different countries. A quick review of top queries for March
2007 is revealing.
five top queries gaining the most growth in South Africa were medicine,
a porn site that slipped through the Net that I wont mention,
Martin Luther King, Christianity and Starbucks. In the UK, they
were PSP games, Johnny Depp, PC World, Audi A3 and British Telecom.
In Ireland, the top four searches were tourism and health service-related.
Number five was slownik angielsko polski, which I think is an online
Polish-English dictionary or, alternatively, I just inadvertently
advertised a Polish porn site.
this tell us anything? To some degree it highlights where different
societies are at. The Internet in the UK is largely a tool for shopping,
gaming and celebrity gossip, and is clearly used a lot by young
people. This is made possible because over 60% of people have access
to the Internet at home, and broadband speeds are high. In Ireland,
Google Zeitgeist provides evidence of a growing Polish population.
South Africa, the picture is less clear. Seemingly, the Internet,
which is only used by 10% of South Africans regularly, is a growing
source of medical advice, but also a place of contradiction. It
currently appears to be oscillating between porn seekers, Christians,
or those in search of non-violent political action or a cup of coffee.
still, South Africans could be searching for the five categories
simultaneously. Could this mean the average Internet user in South
Africa, at least in March 2007, is an ailing perverted activist
Christian who needs coffee to keep himself or herself awake to engage
in wicked habits?
before you write to complain about my provocative analysis, the
South African trends could also suggest that South African activists,
inspired by Martin Luther King, are considering a mass protest against
Starbucks. Or Christians are trying to head pornographers off at
the proverbial moral pass. Conversely, coffee is the source of all
again, in Vonneguts words, it could just be evidence that
indeed we are here to fart around and cumulatively it all means
squat. So what does that tell us?
if you have read this far, it is yet more evidence that baiting
a reader with useless information is easy, no matter how inane.
It is no wonder the Internet is filled with garbage. We love it.
So why did the chicken cross the information superhighway? Sadly,
the evidence suggests it was simply to get to the other site.
Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis
of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its
relevance to South Africa on Polity, see http://www.polity.co.za/pol/opinion/brandon/.
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