What is the meaning of life?

I read a tweet today from Alain de Botton (@alaindebotton), a modern day philosopher and writer who just seems to me to have a magical, easy way with words and ideas.

His tweet said:

The logical conclusion of our relationship to computers: expectantly to type ‘what is the meaning of my life’ into Google.

This made me smile as I imagined people typing “what is the meaning of life” into their search engine, sat at their computers and cursing the results as they scrolled through Google and seeing the omnipresent Wikipedia, the monty python film followed by a load of junk and then the very exact figure of 42 given by Douglas Adams in ‘The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy‘…

By saying that it was the logical conclusion to our relationship with computers, I think Alain is poking fun at our dependency on them, and that by allowing them to fulfil our social, organisational and entertainment needs, we imagine that they can fill a deeper spiritual need too, much like a duck will allow the first thing it sees to fill its need for a mother, we seem to be at a loss when we’re without the moral and spiritual guidance historically given by the church and so plug into whatever’s handy at the time, Self help, cults or indeed Google.

So that got me wondering: Whether or not people were searching more or less for the meaning of life on Google?  How many people search for it every month? (5,500 in the UK, 32,000 worldwide according to Google) and which countries would search for this the most and what other things were they searching for?

So I asked Google insights for search

This showed me that:

  • Searches for the meaning of life were indeed rising since 2008
  • People in the Philippines were most likely to search for it (a highly catholic country but one which I understand is going through a bit of a crisis of identity due to poor family planning)
  • There’s a huge dip in searches for it during the Summer months and it has twin peaks at the start and finish of the year – possibly related to seasonal trends?  Religious festivals?
  • There’s an interesting lack of searches for the meaning of life in places traditionally regarded as being highly religious i.e. Africa, Spain, Russia etc.

All very interesting stuff however what caught my eye was this little thing at the bottom of the page:

The 4th most popular search term typed in after ‘what is the meaning of life?’ was ‘what is 42?’.  So thousands of people every month are getting the answer ’42’ back for their query from the Douglas Adams book and then going onto type that into Google too.

So just who’s doing this?  Well, it’s mostly Americans which is obviously comforting but as with everything, it seems like we’re following closely on their heels, even in the stupid race!

Searches for what is 42 Dark blue denotes popularity

5 thoughts on “What is the meaning of life?

  1. An interesting and witty blog Duncan. It just goes to show how useful SEO is becoming in providing an insight into human behaviour. Google as your local vicar, maybe there’s a gap in the market there…

    And, I can’t believe that not everyone knows that 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything.

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