In Alexa top 100 websites in the world, we find two websites part of our daily routine: Google (number one) and Facebook (number three).
Those two sites as part of our daily routines also tell us quite interesting truths about our human nature. You might have given them for granted, yet now big data allows them to be checked. Indeed, we can test our assumptions about human behaviors and more interestingly about our more intimate thoughts.
In fact, by looking at what we type when searching through Google we can compare it to what we do when we post, like or share on Facebook. That tells us a reviling fact: the gap between what we say and do when we believe others are looking at us is vast compared to what we think when we are in our intimacy.
How do I know? I looked at Google data coming from web searches to find out a few interesting facts.
The Facebook feed is a liar
Judging the world through the lenses of social media posts is the most deceiving way to look at reality. Yet many people each day take the likes and shares on social media as a sort of currency that has some value. But does it? I doubt it.
When you scroll into feed, you find pictures and posts that show how cool we are. That is only a mask we put on. You might already imagine that but looking at Google data can be pretty useful to assess how big is this social phenomenon.
How do I know? Let’s run a quick experiment. Go on Google (in Incognito mode) and type into the search bar “my husband” you will see Google autocompleting the search with suggestions like “my husband hates me,” or better yet “my husband cheated on me.”
That is not to say that women are evil. In fact, if you type “my wife” into Google’s search bar you will notice the same kind of suggestions – based on the most common search queries people type into Google search box.
What does it tell us? For me, two main things.
First, I don’t believe in general we lie because we’re intrinsically bad or evil. Instead, the gap between what we say and what we really think or do is due to our belief in what is socially acceptable. Second, the social media feed is not a reliable way to create meaningful relationships at all. A real friend is someone that tells you how he feels. Not a cosmetic version of his life. Building a real relationship takes a lot of time and effort on both sides.
You don’t think is enough?
Why are people happy on Facebook but miserable according to Google?
I just did a quick research into Google Keyword Planner and looked at the keyword “my life is perfect” which as of November 2017 was searched 270 times. However, I also looked at “my life sucks” as of November 2017 it was searches 12,100 times: a ratio of 46 to 1 in favor of the latter (my life sucks)!
True this data might be biased. In fact, if you search for something on Google most probably you do so because you have a problem, a pain point. Instead, if you are so happy to think that your life is perfect, you might not need Google!
What does this tell us? On the one hand, the social feed isn’t reliable at all as a source of understanding people’s lives. On the other hand, Google web searches also give us a bleak picture.
Indeed, Google – I believe – gets used more as a psychologist that can solve our issues. If you feel happy, there is no particular reason to speak to a psychologist. What can we conclude from this data?
Facebook is a liar if we’re trying to understand how people really feel.
That isn’t to say that Facebook is the cause of people’s lies. Human nature makes us behave in this way because we want to be socially accepted. So much that at times we lie to ourselves as well. What Facebook does is to amplify such behaviors. In short, it makes fake social behaviors more widespread. If that loser posted something cool, why shouldn’t I?
Facebook is Dopamine, while Google is an antidepressant
The way we use Google is fundamentally different from the way we use Facebook (or other social media like LinkedIn). When it comes to behaviors that we manifest on those two sites, there is a considerable gap.
On Google, none is looking at us, while on Facebook it seems anyone is staring at us. Therefore, to Google, we tell our most private secrets. On Facebook instead, we say our biggest lies.
Some more data can confirm that. You can open Google in incognito mode and type “why my life” and see what results Google is giving you. Those results are the most frequent searches.
What do you see? Here some quite popular Google searches for “why my life” and those are some popular results:
“is like this”
or “is so boring”
If you keep going those searches become quite sad. Of course, Google is different from Facebook. As we saw we use Google mostly when looking to solve a problem, while Facebook to have a dose of dopamine.
However, if I see a Facebook page called “my life sucks” how would you explain it only has 46 likes?
Does it mean Google is the ultimate source of truth?
Google’s myth-making machine
We’ve become so used to the word “entrepreneur” that we tend to believe the way we think about it today has always been the same. However, in English, the word “entrepreneur” was used only starting from early 19th century.
In fact, “entrepreneur” derives from the Latin “inter + prendere,” and Old French “entreprendre” which meant to undertake or something undertaken. Initially, “entrepreneur” didn’t mean necessarily a risk-taker but instead someone who made a product just to sell it at an undefined price.
With time the definition of “entrepreneur” expanded until it became hyped and stereotyped. In fact, if you search on Google “entrepreneur that” you can see the stereotypes around entrepreneurship such as “entrepreneur that changed the world” or “entrepreneur that started from nothing.”
It is quite impressive how Google’s autocompleted results can help us build the hyped and stereotyped version of the modern entrepreneur, which we’ll call Mr. Stark:
Mr. Stark although very smart didn’t go to college as he started from nothing. After have failed multiple times he took a risk and changed the world at 25.
You don’t have to be Iron Man to be an entrepreneur! Yet that is what you see from Google’s suggested searches.
Neither Google nor Facebook is a truth-teller yet…
As we saw throughout this article, both Google and Facebook are two sites that play a crucial role in our daily routines and rituals. They have become so part of our life that we don’t even think any more of the way we use them. Even less why we use them at all.
From this article, we saw how Facebook is more like the dopamine dispenser, and Google the antidepressant that keeps us going. However, those roles are not fixed. At times, in fact, we might use Google to relief our boredom and Facebook to talk to friends when we’re depressed.
However, those two sites are used in a completely different way. When in trouble most of the time we open an almost white page with a Google search box and type whatever comes to mind at that moment. With no secrets, neither filters.
On the other hand, when we look into Facebook we have access to an infinite stream of news, updates, and content from our network. That is almost like a slot machine mechanism with the main difference that you could go on forever as scrolling is free while pulling the slot machine lever will cost you each time money. In that feed, though we don’t behave naturally, because we know we’re observed. Therefore, we don’t tell the truth but only show one side of our personality, which we think others would like.
Is Google better than Facebook to understand human nature? Not necessarily. In fact, I believe Facebook tells us a fundamental truth about humans too: we are social creatures. In other words, our desire to be socially accepted is superior to any other.
Therefore, we accept to limit our thoughts and behaviors to fit into an accepted social stereotype. Does this make us happy? I think it doesn’t. That is why we need moments of intimacy to turn at Google to find answers to our most secret thoughts. Will those ideas turn into behavior? They might and they might not.
Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are
This post has been inspired by a remarkable book written by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. The book shows how we can find sources of data that just a few years ago were not available. One excellent source of data – not only for business – but also to find answers to social questions is coming from Google Web Searches.
The book is a source of inspiration on how to think about data differently and creatively. Information is anywhere you just need to know where to look.
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