In the 21st century, no one is an island. Revolutions in information technology have left us with a perennially connected society. Many of us have to deal with a certain degree of anxiety if we go somewhere without our phone, or if our Internet service drops unexpectedly for a few hours at home. Luddites look at the younger generation and despair and lament the loss of human contact and empathy in the face of screen time and instant messaging. The truth lies somewhere in the middle; our tech probably won’t take us straight to transcendence unassisted, but many people would argue that it makes us better people who are more equipped to handle the challenges of the modern world.
The most revolutionary and underappreciated aspect of the transformative nature of information technology is without a doubt the search engine. The search engine has made indexing and storing the sum of human knowledge as easy as sending off a text message. 25 years ago, if you got into an argument with a friend about whether a certain fact was true or not, the argument just kept going ad nauseam. With search engines – and particularly search engine technology on mobile phones – those days are gone forever. If there’s ever something you don’t know, you whip out your phone and Google it to get your answer. Many young people who grew up with the technology don’t seem to realize how earth-shatteringly awesome that is. It’s a massive step forward for the human race, albeit one that’s used mostly for cat pictures and “adult” videos.
Regardless, the point still stands. Ignorance is no longer an excuse in this day and age. Don’t know something? Ask the omnipotent Google. In fact, Google is so focused on search engine optimization and research that they’ve developed several algorithms to track search engine activity and put that information out to the masses under the banner of ‘Google Trends’. With Trends, you can see in real-time what people are searching for and also compare the frequency of a searched term at different points over the years. They were even nice enough to create some year-end lists for 2013, to see what the most searched terms were throughout the year. One of the lists displayed the #10 most frequently searched terms that begin with ‘What is…”, the standard search engine nomenclature for posing a question to the internet. The big question remains; what were people asking Google in 2013? Let’s find out.
10. What is DOMA?
DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was a federal law passed and signed into power by U.S. president Bill Clinton in 1996 that effectively gave individual states the right to refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of same-sex marriages that were granted in other states. In a heterosexual marriage, if you get married in Massachusetts and move to Texas, nothing changes; your marriage is still official. DOMA meant same-sex marriages were only valid in states that allowed them. It was implicit federal approval of marriage discrimination. Bill Clinton and others who created the bill have since come out against DOMA, and in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that section 3 of the act – the one that allowed states to refuse to acknowledge same-sex marriages – was unconstitutional. This decision probably sparked all the interest in DOMA during 2013.
9. What is EPO?
EPO (erythropoietin) is a glycoprotein hormone that controls red blood cell production. Why would the average Joe Schmo take an interest in erythropoietin? Because it’s the performance-enhancing drug that Lance Armstrong confessed to using to win all of his Tour de France titles on Oprah. The media sensation that followed made many people curious about the substance itself, so EPO instantly became a hot search in 2013.
8. What is Snapchat?
Social media moves quickly these days. It seems like just yesterday when Instagram was the new kid on the block, but it was quickly displaced by Snapchat in 2013 – at least in terms of what has the ‘cool’ factor. Like Instagram, Snapchat was approached by Facebook with an offer to buy out the company. Unlike Instagram, which Facebook bought for $1 billion, Snapchat turned down a $3 billion offer from Mark Zuckerberg and company. The jaw-dropping refusal sent waves throughout the business and tech world, which prompted many people to take to Google to find out more about Snapchat.
7. What is Monsanto?
After decades of shady business practices that have gone mostly under the radar, it seems the general public has, as of late, been waking up to the uncomfortable reality that is Monsanto. Monsanto is a multinational corporation in the agriculture and biotechnology business that profits off of some dubious practices, such as patenting genetically modified seeds and controlling what farmers can and cannot do with their products. Several high profile incidents have put Monsanto in the news, and more and more people are interested in knowing what exactly this secretive company that controls so much of the world’s food supply is up to.
6. What is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin exploded into the mainstream in 2013. It’s the original cryptocurrency, a peer-to-peer, deflationary and decentralized currency that relies on no central bank oversight to function. It’s basically a libertarian’s wet dream. Widespread bitcoin adoption would have unprecedented economic and geopolitical consequences, but right now the experiment is still very much in its infancy. Many people mocked the idea of a digital currency, but, likewise, many people mocked the idea of the Internet replacing television and newspapers back in 1995. We’ll have to wait and see who’s right, but my money is always on the new tech rather than the old guard.
5. What is Molly?
Molly isn’t a new drug; it’s just the new slang for ecstasy. Whatever you want to call it, its proper name is MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine). The alleged difference between molly and ecstasy is that molly is free of adulterants, while ecstasy is usually cooked with traces of other drugs like methamphetamine. In practice, this probably isn’t always the case, but generally molly comes in powder form while ecstasy is in pills. The use of the word ‘molly’ has been prevalent in hip-hop for the past few years, which probably caused many people listening to the music to ask Google just what ‘popping a molly’ meant.
4. What is BBM?
A term that jumped straight out of 2008 to land comfortably in 2013, BBM is short for Blackberry Messenger. BBM was sometimes the sole reason people held on to their Blackberry phones as long as they did back in the late 2000s. At its peak, it was the best, most secure mobile messaging service on the planet. Then, Apple introduced the iPhone and Google introduced the Android OS, and the rest is history. Blackberry was struggling to remain relevant, and so they released BBM for non-Blackberry devices for the first time in 2013. Millions of people downloaded it and reacquired their old BBM contact list in a wave of nostalgia, which prompted those who never used BBM to ask Google exactly what it was.
3. What is Ricin?
If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad yet, stop what you’re doing, open Netflix, and get to work. Possibly the greatest show to ever grace a TV screen, Breaking Bad enthralled and captivated audiences during its 5-season run. In the show, the main character Walter White uses a chemical called ricin to poison someone, which made many people take to Google to figure out exactly it was. You’ll get no more details from here though – spoilers are the enemy.
2. What is Fracking?
#2 is an encouraging sign that people are taking an interest in where their oil comes from. Fracking is slang for hydraulic fracturing, a mining practice that uses high pressure water to extract shale gas, petroleum and uranium from the soil deep underground. Fracking is the most commonly used mining technique in Alberta’s Athabasca oil sands, and is now being commonly used in the United States as well. The process is controversial and allegedly creates large amounts of pollution and increases the risk of seismic activity, but its defenders point to the economic gains that areas that adopt the process receive. For better or for worse, it looks like fracking is here to stay.
1. What is Twerking?
Twerk Miley, twerk! Although shaking ones posterior has long been a go-to dance move in every culture, the booty shaking variation known as twerking went mainstream in 2013, in part thanks to Miley Cyrus. The distinctive style of dance has been common in hip-hop and urban circles for a long time now, but its adoption by none other than Miley – the unofficial representative of 13-year-old white girls everywhere throughout the late 2000s – scandalized some people and let out cries of ‘try-hard’ from others. Whatever her reasoning behind adopting the twerk as her signature dance move, as a publicity move it clearly worked. Her career exploded, as did the interest in twerking. 2013 was the year of the twerk.