Friday, October 10, 2008

TV Viewers Are A Curious Lot

Google Trends used to really irritate me. Now it only mildly irritates me. It's a pretty good concept, but the results just suck. (And I love the Google boys, so for me to say something sucks, it really sucks. It's the suckiest of the sucked sucks.) But I've learned something about people in general through Google Trends. And I don't know what to think about it either.

It would seem as if people watch a lot of TV. And I don't know if it's that the subject matter that is presented on the TV is of a foreign nature to most viewers or if most viewers are just so darned curious that they must learn more about that topic that they just saw on that episode of 'Heroes' or 'ER' or 'Dancing With The Stars". But I do know that when people watch TV, they are often hopping on Google shortly after or during their TV viewing and searching for topics of the program that they just saw.

For instance, tonight as I checked Google trends, I would have normally become alarmed to the point of near panic when I saw that the number one search for the past hour was 'ricin'. Now, ricin isn't exactly something that a whole bunch of people would all want to know about at the same time. There has to be a reason. First thing I thought: Terrorist attack. Second thing I thought: Terrorist attack, but the white powder they found turned out to be Tinactin. Third thing I thought: WTF? Oh, that's right. That was one of the stories on 'ER' tonight. Got it.

So a bunch of people watched 'ER' where the guy in the ER had a bag full of homemade ricin in something akin to a Ziploc bag which, when he was being uncooperative with the docs, was sliced through when the nurse went to cut through his shirt and powder went flying. Then the whole ER was blocked off by the Haz-Mat team and their magical plastic (which, if you believe stuff on TV, will save you if there is ever any sort of chemical attack.) and everyone thought they were going to die. It probably could have been a little more suspenseful than it was, but I guess if you didn't know a lot about ricin, you'd have to assume that all of those fictional characters living inside your TV were going to die because that is kind of what they implied with the line, "In eight hours, we all find out if we're going to die." Enter Google.

Other things that, if you go by the Hot Trends at Google Trends, were on TV on Thursday night that caused many people to have a compelling urge to learn more about what they just saw on TV were things like:
  • Elisa Donovan - A woman who is the subject of a Lifetime movie which will be airing on Saturday (check times and local listings near you). The Google Need To Know Now Ranking (the GNTKNR): 3.
  • The Eleventh Hour - Some CBS show about a guy who works for the government and is always saving the day at the last minute or, as the title implies, in the eleventh hour. GNTKNR: 5
  • Life on Mars - an ABC show about a guy (I think he's a cop) who is transported back to 1972. I've actually heard it's kind of good, but I didn't see it. GNTKNR: 8
  • Rachel Yamagata - a musician/songwriter of some sort who was on Leno. GNTKNR: 9
  • The Office - Business Ethics - General topic/plot of The Office. GNTKNR: 13
  • Gary Dourdan - Apparently, some guy on CSI: Any Town Near You who is leaving the show. GNTKNR: 14
  • Moral Orel - A stop motion animated television show which gets a TV-MA rating due to sexual references and dark, satirical humor (Yay! Dark, satirical humor!) GNTKNR: 17
  • Testees - A show on F/X about people who are test subjects (ie, guinea pigs) for various, usually not recommended, products at a testing facility. GNTKNR: 19
  • Smallville Season 8 - Apparently, there were previews out at some point today. GNTKNR: 20.

And those are just the Top 20 of the Top 100 Google Hot Trends. That's 10 out of 20. So HALF of the Top 20 Hot Trends are because people saw the particular item on TV and then took the time to Google it. Wow. See, I don't really think of TV as something that people really think all that much about when they're watching it. I also don't think of a lot of things that are ON TV as something that I would really want to (or be able to) think about. At least not enough to then think, "That ricin stuff. I must know more!" That's just not going to happen. With me. With me that's not going to happen. With a heck of a lot of other people it is going to happen and it does happen. I just wish I knew why.

This is starting to perplex me more as I think about it more. Seriously. People are SO interested about what they see in their fictional TV shows that they need to get online and learn more about stuff, yet this country is packed to the gills with morons. They're EVERYWHERE. Moron here. Moron there. Everywhere you go. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a moron. (Well, if you're swinging around a dead cat, you ARE a moron, so perhaps that wasn't the best example I could give there.) That just doesn't make any sense. We should be a country of geniuses if we're so intrigued by learning things that we just happen to hear or watch for half an hour (22 minutes minus the commercials). But we're not. Oh, no. We are NOT geniuses.

30% of the country thinks that we are currently, right now, this very moment, IN a Depression. They are clearly morons. But do they know anything about ricin, that's my question! If they do, why are they looking up stuff that they saw on 'ER' and not stuff about how the economy works and what would quantify a Depression? (Hint: If you're not wearing a barrel, it's not a Depression.) I know fictional lands are a great place to visit once in a while, but why are so many people hanging out there with their fake hospital and their fake doctors and their fake ricin? Why aren't these people channeling that curiosity for good instead of evil?

Let's review. What have we learned? Not much, unfortunately. We've reinforced the idea that people in the US love their TV and everything on it. We've gleaned information that suggests that people don't always understand what they see on TV OR they do understand it, but they just want to know more about it and they remedy both of those situations by getting online and using Google to search for what they want to know. We still have no idea why there are so many morons, though we did learn that you probably don't want to be swinging around dead cats. We learned we're not in a Depression, despite what 30% of people in the US think. And I also think we learned that, of those 10 things out of the Top 20 that people had to know more about, NONE of them provokes any sort of interest in me to want to follow in the footsteps of those curious viewers and learn more via Google. I just don't. But I am the only one, apparently, as lots of people are using their new found thirst for knowledge, via their TV, as an excuse to screw around online. Me, I just don't make excuses.

So what we need to do is to hope that TV shows will do show topics about things that are actually occurring in the country (apparently things on Saturday Night Live do not count, as they were on TV and they didn't make the Top 20) so that people can Google them and learn about stuff that really might matter. And if they could start with something about how we're not in a Depression (and throw in something about how Barry isn't a Muslim while you're at it) it would be most appreciated.

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