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What are we searching for?

Posted on 29 July 2010, 15:59

What are we searching for? And what solutions are to be found? In former times, if you wished to know the answer to such questions, you left your hovel, walked a day’s journey through the forest, crossed the wide river and climbed the steep hill to arrive at the cave where the sage lived. There, he would sit in quiet contemplation while the synchronicity of the universe spoke through the clouds, the stream or sticks of divination, making all things clear.

These days, however, things have changed. The sage is just something you put in your stuffing and the answers you seek are not a day’s journey away, but as near to you as your computer and the Global Monthly Keyword Search on Google – a facility which gives a fascinating insight into what’s on everybody’s mind. And as I trawled this ocean of information, I confess to being seriously surprised by the catch.

It was a friend of mine who told me about this new source of wisdom. He’d just discovered that over 9 million people clicked on Depression last month, which left him depressed and me wondering what exactly it was that was getting everybody down? I also wondered about where people were turning to for answers? If the Keyword search could tell us the problems, then perhaps it could offer some solutions too? My research threw up some interesting answers - and proved very good news for one person at least.

So what’s worrying the world? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Climate Change is a cause of concern with 2,240,000 hits; though beating that by some way is a more personal issue: our self-image and weight. There were over 4,500,000 hits on Diets or Slimming, which suggests that what we see in the mirror, is more pressing than what we see on the news; though I note that Terror and Terrorism combine to over 15 million.

According to the statistics, however, there’s an even darker cloud looming over us; one which dwarfs all other problems. There are some clues to its identity along the way. Who would have thought, for instance, that in this day and age, people would still be worrying about Hell? Yet last month, it received an enormous 24 million hits. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Only last week, a friend of mine and life long atheist now dying of cancer, told me how concerned he was about ‘the fiery place’, and so it seems are others. More of us, however, dream of paradise, with 25 million finding comfort and hope last month by clicking on Heaven. 

With these statistics to hand, we’ll not be surprised to learn that according to the Global Keyword Search, by far our biggest worry is Death, with a staggering 68 million hits. On one level, this is understandable. After all, death and taxes are the only two things we can be sure of. But perhaps I’m shocked that so many take this concern to the internet, and not to friends or family.  As a former priest, I remember people would often raise the subject with me, but maybe those days are passing. Is the internet the new priesthood where we take our deepest hopes and fears? It’s a rather lonely image of the modern world, but perhaps a true one, and it paves the way for perhaps the bleakest statistic of all: last month, 11,100,000 couldn’t see a way out of their difficulties and put Suicide into their search box.

But if those are our fears and our worries, what are our solutions? Where do we turn for answers – or at least for a bit of cheer? Of course the celebrity industry is always there to offer distraction, providing a real life soap opera amongst the rich and richer. To this end, Simon Cowell managed 1,500,000 hits, George Clooney, 1,830,000 and Brad Pitt a cool 6 million. But none of these could compete with the ladies. TV star, girl band singer and on/off partner of a famous footballer, Cheryl Cole received a barn-storming 9 million hits last month, as did the Queen of TV emotion, Oprah Winfrey. Whether Cheryl will be receiving similar attention when she’s in her sixties is open to question; but the ageing yet still lean Rolling Stones are doing just that, with 9 million rock and rollers eager for the latest on Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie. However, even more entertaining for us over the past few weeks have been the ups and downs of two other celebrity lives, with Angelina Jolie receiving 11,100,000 hits and Tiger Woods, 13,600,000 - not all of whom, I suspect, were there for the golf. 

But another lean man beat them both. With 30 million hits to his name, President Obama is a true icon of the present day; and just to upset the Stones, also receiving 30 million clicks were another British band from the ‘60’s, called The Beatles.

So what are the millions looking for in these celebrity figures? That’s not information we’re given, but in the end, the numbers alone prove that each of them is an icon in some way; and everyone finds themselves in their icon, their hopes and their dreams lived in and through another. That’s why they’re icons.

But not all seek the distraction of celebrity. The commercial success of Richard Dawkins’ books has made atheism fashionable again, and while he personally scores an impressive 550,000 hits, (which ironically, is exactly the same score as his nemesis the Pope,) Atheist and Atheism combine to register a solid 2 million. To put this in perspective, they easily beat Vegetarianism, which shows a disappointing return of only 110,000. But before the champagne bottles pop in the household of rationalism, it should be noted that Psychics – those who talk with the dead - received 2,740,000 hits, whilst Paranormal ghosted in with an effortless 11million.

This all suggests that the world is not quite done with mystery yet, still believing in things that go bump in the night. Others, however, think only of things that go bump on a football pitch, with 11 million clicking on World Cup, while a world community of 25 million put their faith in a different set of balls, and clicked on Lottery.

But there were other sources of comfort. 450,000 people wondered if they might return to earth in another form, hopefully a better one, clicking on Reincarnation; and 1 million, considering the benefits of essential oils on their mood or health, clicked on Aromatherapy. Back with body image, and perhaps goaded by air-brushed celebrities, Implants, for those considering a little nip and tuck, received a significant 4 million hits. (Though be warned: Tummy Tucks Gone Wrong scores 1000, which is 1000 very angry people.)  And when it comes to comfort, we’re not done with the stars, either – only this time, it’s those found in space. Though most read their horoscopes more for entertainment than enlightenment, there remains a strong sense that personality and human affairs are in some way related to the relative positions of the celestial bodies, with 5 million hits recorded on Astrology last month. 

And talking of things celestial, anxiety about life and death tends to be good for religion, a fact reflected in the figures. Religion itself received 13,600,000 hits, while individual religions and their leaders fared variously. The Dalai Lama scored 1 million, as did Spirituality; Buddha registered 6 million, Hinduism 5 million and Islam 13,600,000.

Whatever our beliefs, however, about contact with a heavenly world, our need to be in contact with this world is equally important, with Mobile phones receiving 16 million visits. Interestingly, in the religious sphere, both Jesus and God were way ahead of the others, each receiving 45,500,000 visits from earth. I’m not sure what this proves about us, especially as I then discovered that Army scored exactly the same amount. Apparently we like God, but also like a fight.

Perhaps things were simpler when it was just the sage on the hill, for with so many statistics to hand, it’s possible to end up knowing everything, but understanding nothing. Certainly the Global Keyword Search reveals a world busy with both problems and solutions, and though the numbers are huge, behind every click is a real person with real hopes and fears and seeking something. I wish each of them well.

But there remains one more statistic to give, because although we’ve named some very famous and much sought-after individuals, we haven’t yet named the person who came top of last month’s Global Keyword Search. I said the results were very good news for someone. Who might it be? With a staggering 124 million hits, please put your hands together for the flamboyant female singer, Lady Gaga.


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The Only Planet of Choice: Visitations – Many people use the word ‘Alien’ to describe a visitor from outer space. Extra terrestrial is another word, which is rather more user friendly. For the sake of the question and answer format, the word used by the questioner has been left, though even Tom questions our use of‘Alien’. Should we wish to foster openess between all beings of the Universe perhaps we should also look at our vocabulary? In a discussion between Andrew and Tom many years earlier, Andrew had asked Tom about UFOs and whether they were created manifestations. Tom had replied: “Many of the flying things that you call UFOs come from our place, but they come from other places also, and they do come in physical form. But many of them are not physical. They are like your movie screen”. Read here
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