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What Google search trends tell us about 2017 (we like making slime, mostly)

The Guardian // 20th December 2017
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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “What Google search trends tell us about 2017 (we like making slime, mostly)” was written by Arwa Mahdawi, for The Guardian on Sunday 17th December 2017 13.00 UTC

I’d only been dating my (now) girlfriend for a few weeks when I noticed a small bowl of slime in her apartment. It was mint-green and it wobbled. Oh God, I thought to myself, this is what happens when you meet people off the internet; you go home with them thinking they’re perfectly normal and then it turns out they breed tarantulas or they’re gluten-free or freakishly fond of slime and masochism. I held my misgivings at bay and asked, calmly, “Is that slime?” Yes. It was. But there was a very wholesome explanation for it: the small child next door had kindly given her the home-made slime as a gift. Slime, apparently, was very popular with kids these days. Hah, I sneered, that’s clearly a weird American thing – back home in the UK all the kids are into grime.

Anyway, that was in May and I haven’t thought about slime since. Until just now that is, when I realised my girlfriend had been right and I’d been wrong (not for the first time). Slime isn’t just a weird American thing; it’s a global phenomenon. Indeed, according to Google’s recently released The Year in Search, “How to make slime?” was the top trending “how to” question around the world in 2017. Comment faire du slime? Hur gör man slime? Cómo hacer slime? From Mexico to Malmö to Milton Keynes, people really wanted to know how to sculpt slime. And in Australia, bless them for going the extra mile, they wanted to know how to make fluffy slime.

Slime wasn’t all that was on our minds. People wanted to know how to do a whole gamut of things in 2017. As Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google tweeted: “This year we searched ‘how’ more than ever before. The questions we asked show our desire to understand, and ultimately improve the world around us.” In the UK, for example, the top questions we asked included: “How to lose belly fat fast”, “How to make Yorkshire pudding”, and “How to watch Mayweather vs McGregor”. Because nothing says “improving the world” like watching two men beat each other to a bloody pulp while munching on Yorkshire puds and worrying about your muffin top.

Enough with the hows, however. Let’s get on to the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and whys. What insights about the state of the world (apart from the fact that we’re all doomed) can we derive from a year of global Googling? Here’s my own list of 2017’s most surprising search results.

The Russians hacked our stomachs

We’ve heard a lot this year about Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and Brexit vote. The improbable idea that a major world power would interfere in another country’s democratic process has shocked a great number of people. But while everyone was distracted by headlines about secret meetings with Kremlin officials and state-sponsored hacking, I think we all missed the real story. Which was beef stroganoff. According to Google, beef stroganoff was the No 1 trending recipe in America and No 4 in the UK. Stroganoff, of course, is a Russian dish, supposedly named after the 18th-century count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov. You might think it fanciful to link a sudden taste for stroganoff to recent Russian geopolitical power plays but let me remind you that the way to a nation’s heartland is through its stomach. Food for thought anyway.

Levels of waterboarding knowledge rose considerably

The seventh-top trending “what is?” search in the UK, sandwiched between “What is a general election?” and “What is the DUP?” was “What is waterboarding?” So, FYI, you might want to avoid arguments with your neighbours about politics. Who knows what they have been looking up online?

Britain has a poor appetite for patriotism

Speaking of food, I think it rather sad that Brexit hasn’t had much of an impact on the great British kitchen. The Top 10 trending recipes in the UK in 2017 were overwhelmingly foreign. As well as the stroganoff these recipes included chilli con carne (foreigne), spaghetti bolognese (foreignese), Beef bourguignon (foreignon), and Dauphinoise potatoes (foreignoise). The lone English dish in the top five was hot cross buns.

Bitcoin regrets abound

Not to be one of those bores who goes on about how they were into cryptocurrency before it was cool, but I liked Bitcoin before it got popular. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy any. If I had I’d be writing this on a yacht eating stroganoff with a silver spoon and waterboarding peasants for sport. It seems I’m not the only one wishing they had got involved with the Bitcoin boom. “How to buy Bitcoin” was the second-top trending “how to” in the UK, and the third-top trending globally. Fast forward a year, after the Bitcoin bubble inevitably bursts, and you can expect Google’s 2018 top trending searches to include: “How do I tell my partner that I remortgaged the house to buy Bitcoin and our only remaining asset is a stockpile of home-made slime?”

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