Updated: Aug 26, 2019
By Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.
Damn! I thought it was just me.
"Did you know that 87% of people lie to their therapist?" I told him emphatically, delighted with my wonderful new people fact.
"Everybody lies," He said. "You should read it. It will make you a lot less naive about people," he lied.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, aside from having a preposterously long surname, is an internet geek true to stereotype: single, a big-data obsessive, and, although he doesn't say it, most likely deprived of Vitamin D - a result of spending way too much time in his apartment. Still, from his book I learnt loads! And lots! And a plethora of information I could have done without knowing, but this book was fascinating nonetheless.
Most scientists, he argues, are woefully inadequate when it comes to obtaining research subjects in sufficient quantities to support the 'facts' they present. Well, that must surely be the best argument-winning retort I have ever obtained. You know, when people tell you 'scientific facts' about human behaviour, I now have the ultimate response.
Seth tracks digital trails that people sludge across the world wide web without realising it in order to better understand what it is we want, what we do and who we really are. He does this for fun, and for academia. As a result, he's been able to debunk quite a bit about 'people'. The Google Search Bar has become a modern day confessional, so at least that's why he has dedicated an entire sex, wisely I think: his book made it to the New York Times Bestseller List. Just like 50 shades of grey but without the whips.
In the pre-digital age, we never told people our embarrassing thoughts or fantasies. In the digital age, we don't either. However, we do tell Google. Then, in turn, Seth finds out about us and publishes stuff in books. Thankfully, Seth is tremendously ethnocentric and has mostly focused on his fellow Americans.
For example, he discovered:
Straight American women have sex, they say, on average 55 times per annum.
Those same women say they use a condom 16% of the time.
That means US women use 1.1 billion condoms per year.
But replicating the research with straight hetrosexual US men amounts to 1.6 billion condoms being used every year.
However, only 600 million condoms are sold every year.
That's an awful lot of washing and drying if you ask me ;)
Interesting fact: Google may well be better at predicted the outcome of the elections better than opinion exit polls.
Every since David Cameron's conservatives won outright despite opinion polls saying it was too close to call, and more recently Brexit slightly tipped in favour of exiting, I've believed that we are now living in a community where it is not okay to tell people what we are really doing, thinking or feeling when it comes to voting. Too much name-calling I feel defeats healthy discussion. So we lie.
Turns out that if you are stuck between two candidates, say Corbyn v. Johnson/Hunt (whoever that may be), or Johnson/Hunt v. Corbyn then the order you type their names into google is most indicative of who will win. Generally, we are more likely to type in the person's name we are supporting in first.
We are least likely to search out jokes on Mondays, and on cloudy, rainy days. No wonder Australians call us whinging poms.
Antidepressants decrease the incidence of depression by about 20%, but hot climates have 40% fewer depression searches than cold climates. Thus, I rather think the NHS should just send us all to Cornwall and Devon, or better, further afield if we still can post-Brexit.
The more friends you share with your spouse, the greater the likelihood you will split up.
When there are mass layoffs and redundances in America, you'd expect 'new jobs' or 'unemployment office' to peak in google trends. Nope, it's Slutload/Rawtube - popular pornographic sites, and spider solitaire!
Strawberry Pop Tarts sell seven times faster just before a hurricane hits.
When a man is interested in a woman...get this: he laughs at her jokes. I'm not sure this is revelatory. If, however, we women say 'I guess' or 'probably' a lot, then you can guess we're probably not interested. Mindblowingly though, if we ask lots of questions on a date, neither party is going to be seeking out a second date. It's a date folks, not an interview.
Google can, and does, calculate our Gross National Happiness on a daily basis. And content is more likely to go viral if it's overwhelmingly got a feel-good factor to it. Tell that to the bloody news!
Very scarily, an internet analytics company's sole focus, is to track the size of underground economies - one study cited is how many cigarettes are bought and sold without paying the government duty, using photographs of public trash cans. Put that thought in your pipe and smoke it!
Approximately 5% of male Americans are gay, not 10% as previously stated as 'fact'.
40% of women's google searches regarding penis size are to complain about the fact they are too big but only 1% of men google how to shrink their manhood.
Women are as likely to ask Google how to make their partner climax quicker as men google how to make it last longer.
Men commonly search "I love my girlfriend's boobs". Quite what they expect Google to do about this is not clear.
And Seth's favourite fact? That men make as many searches on how to perform oral sex on themselves as they do on how to give women an orgasm.
In a speech given by Obama, to instill calm and tolerance following a shooting in San Bernardino on December 2nd, 2015, the media and commentators praised Obama for his healing words. Google, however, told a completely different story: Islamophobic-related google searches in America peaked during and shortly after his speech.
'Jokes' involving the n-word rise on average 30% on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Parents are twice as likely to ask Google if their son is gifted than their daughter, and twice as likely to ask how to get their daughters to lose weight than their sons. Yet, 28% of US girls are overweight and 35% of boys are. Go figure.
And how Google is expected to answer 'Is my daughter ugly?' one can only guess, yet this is asked three times more frequently than 'Is my son ugly?'.
Googling how to terminate a pregnancy is highest in states that have passed laws restricting abortions. The state with the highest rate of Google Searches for self-induced abortions is a state with 3 million people, and now just one abortion clinic: Mississippi.
Politicians may celebrate the fall in abortons, but the data shows there are five missing births for every thousand women in states where it is hard to get an abortion.
A/B testing, that is when google, facebook etc, put out two nearly identical adverts say, with a very, very, very minor differences, e.g. two different shades of blue, and this it is highly likely this is what is making the internet so very addictive. They call it site optimisation. But the gaming and gambling industries are also making use of it too.
Any points-based system can have a significant impact on your life. Elite illusion - whether or not you get into a top university or college, makes absolutely no difference to your grades or long-term income potential. Yet, if you are assigned to a tough prison as opposed to an more relaxed one, you are more likely to be a repeat offender.
The words people use in loan applications reveal whether or not you are likely to default. Avoid God at all costs. And promises! And saying 'thank you'.
There is growing evidence that Google searches relating to criminal activity do correlate with criminal activity. If your partner searches 'how to kill a spouse', run for the hills. Now. You have a 1/15 chance of them carrying it out.
Barely anyone reads self-help books or economic how to books from cover to cover. In fact, estimates vary that only 3% or 7% of people do. This fact was written in Seth's conclusion. You're welcome.
If you have any interest in racism, marketing, sexism, prejudice, biases and interpersonal relationships, then this book is utterly illuminating. The world doesn't operate the way we think it is supposed to. Life is full of 'shoulds' and 'shouldn'ts', but what we actually do reveals something quite different to the beliefs we state we hold. It truly is a peak into the national psyche of your average American. I very much doubt we can use nationality to 'other-ise' them.
It is a truism that one should never compare their insides with others outsides, particularly if one is prone to beating oneself up. This book bridges the gap a little by giving us a peak at what your average human is really thinking and doing. Sometimes, depressingly so, but quite often it is not very surprising. Facebook is not 'real life', it's just personal PR. If you want to really know about your friends innermost lives - check out their search history, I guess.
Or rather crack on making life just a little better for yourself.