Ever typed an embarrassing question into Google and felt a little ashamed? You’re not alone. After all, the beauty of Google is that it won’t judge you the way a person might if you asked it, say, how many stripes are on the American flag or how many videos of the Harlem Shake are available on the internet (it’s about 40,000, in case you were wondering). In 2013, anonymous people all over the world typed “WHAT IS ___” into our most beloved search engine in the hope of finding some valuable information online. Conveniently, at the end of every year, Google releases “Zeitgeist Lists” which reveal people’s top ten searches in music, celebrities, cities, gadgets, you name it. Focusing simply on the “what is” searches, we gain some fascinating insights into what the average person is curious about, all the more reliable because these searches were made behind the comfortable anonymity of a computer screen. This list of searches and the others Google has released certainly speak volumes about our cultural milieu and, shall we say, the intellectual variety of the American people. Many reveal the ways in which we rely on apps and social media; others draw focus to our ever-shifting and complex governmental system; still more suggest that many, many people watched the VMA awards… What were the American people most curious about, or most ignorant of, in the last year? Make of it what you will; maybe you’ll learn something new, as these curious searchers did.
10. What is Bitcoin?
Buzz around Bitcoin has been building in the last year after it surged in value. Bitcoin is a form of currency invented in 2009 that can be transferred via the internet without involving a bank. Bitcoin allows one to buy merchandise anonymously; small businesses have become fans of the fad due to the absence of credit card fees. People can send Bitcoins to one another using a computer or a mobile app and consumers can buy anything from web hosting services to pizza using the currency. Some don’t purchase anything with it but buy the currency as an investment in the hope that it’ll continue to increase in value. Recently the government has expressed concern about the unregulated nature of Bitcoin. For more information check out this video: https://bitcoin.org/en/
9. What Is Snapchat?
With ‘Snapchatting’ a common activity among smartphone users of all ages, those feeling out of the loop have been hitting up Google to see what all the fuss is about. Snapchat was invented in early 2011 and took off in early 2012, with daily active users climbing from 3,000 to 30,000 in the space of just a month. This free app is available for download on most smartphones, allowing a person to send a photo or video which lasts between 1 and 10 seconds before it self-destructs. While it is possible to screenshot a snapchat, this requires acting fast. The appeal of the app is not only the impermanent nature of the pictures but also the ability to draw or write on one’s picture before sending it. Recently, however, a scandal broke when inappropriate and potentially illegal snapchats from phones were screenshotted and ‘leaked.’ As with anything that involves the internet, it’s probably best not to send anything over this app you wouldn’t want a couple of hundred people seeing.
8. What is Lupus?
For anyone who ever watched the show House, this disease may sound familiar: While its presence as a recurring theme in the show may have contributed to the high volume of ‘what is…’ searches on the disease, Lupus is also one of the most mysterious, unpredictable, and trying diseases around today. It is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body such as the skin, joints, or organs. The disease results in one’s immune system attacking itself since it’s unable to recognize the difference between foreign invaders and the body’s healthy tissues. Flare ups of the disease result in pain, inflammation, and enduring damage. While there are medications available to manage the disease, unfortunately at present there is no definitive cure.
7. What Is Obamacare?
In simplest terms, “Obamacare” is the unofficial name for The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law on March 23, 2010. The Act allows Americans to purchase federally regulated and subsidized health insurance. It’s estimated that by the end of this year most Americans will have mandatory health insurance – or will have to pay a fee for every month they go without coverage. By 2015, large employers will have to provide health coverage to full-time workers. To hear President Obama himself explain his bill in a surprisingly concise and clear way, check out this video!
6. What Is Sequestration?
The sequester refers to automatic budget cuts that would potentially threaten jobs all over the United States, as well as cut services for children, seniors, disabled persons, and men and women in the armed forces. Initially designed to help Congress compromise on productive ways to reduce the deficit, these cuts were scheduled for January 1st 2013 but were delayed until March 1st, 2013. These budget adjustments reflect both Republicans’ demands to cut certain social programs as well as the Democrats’ desire to decrease military spending. However, the extent of these cuts remains to be seen.
5. What Is Gluten?
It seems like everyone and everything is gluten-free these days. But what actually is gluten? It’s understandable that America is asking this question. Gluten is a substance present in foods that contain wheat or cereal grains like barley and rye. It is a mixture of two proteins, and is responsible for the chewy texture of dough. Celiac disease, an intolerance to gluten, affects 1 in every 141 people in the United States. Some people demonstrate celiac-like symptoms when ingesting gluten such as upset stomach, joint pain and fatigue (but do not experience any actual intestinal damage). While there are plenty of people who are gluten intolerant, the new gluten-free “fad” is not necessarily healthy for the average person, as gluten-free foods can often lack important nutrients.
4. What Is Molly?
When Miley sang about ‘dancing with Molly’ and Rihanna waxed lyrical about ‘moonshine and Molly’, many were left wondering to what their favourite singers were cryptically referring. ‘Molly’ has recently become the “It” drug; many know it as a pill containing a “pure” form of MDMA or ecstasy and some call it “designer MDMA”. Molly has become exceedingly popular in the context of electronic music and “rave culture”, viewed as a the ultimate party drug. The first hit on Google for Molly is Tyga’s popular song “Molly.” Trinidad James’ song “All Gold Everything” featuring the famous line “popped a molly, I’m sweating” has over 16 million views on YouYube. Molly can be far more sinister than its somewhat glorified public persona implies. In November of 2013, CNN published an article exposing some of the risks of the hot new drug. Because Molly is illegal, its contents cannot be regulated. Although many people think this version of ecstasy is less risky because its “pure,” the DEA has reported that only about 13% of the Molly seized in New York had any MDMA, and that it is often mixed with other drugs. Only recently two young women’s deaths were linked to the drug at the Electric Zoo music festival on Randall’s Island in New York City. Although the details remain unclear, the cause of death has been linked to temperature changes the body undergoes when taking the drug.
3. What is DOMA?
DOMA stands for the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. The law legally denies same-sex couples many of the federal protections of marriage like Social Security survivor benefits, family and medical leave, and immigration rights. On June 26th, 2013, however, the LGBT community and supporters of gay rights celebrated as the United States Supreme Court ruled that section 3 – which defines marriage as exclusively between persons of opposite sexes – is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court decision dictates that the federal government cannot deny married same-sex couples protection under the law. Yet, it doesn’t dictate to individual states whom they can allow to marry or how they should recognize marriages that have taken place in other states. For couples living in states that respect the rights of gay marriage, this ruling will make a huge difference. For same-sex couples living in states that do not acknowledge gay marriage as legitimate, there’s still work to be done before the full effects of this ruling are felt.
2. What Is Ricin?
The American people may be particularly concerned about ricin these days because of a scare that occurred fairly recently. In April of 2013, the Senate mail facility notified the United States Capitol Police that they received an envelope filled with a white substance, which turned out to be ricin. Ricin is a natural but highly toxic compound. It’s a byproduct of processing castor beans, meaning it can be obtained from the pressed seeds of a castor oil plant. If inhaled or ingested, it can be fatal; alarmingly, less than a pinpoint of it can kill a person due to failure of the respiratory and circulatory systems. That being said, medical experts have pointed out that ricin is nowhere near as dangerous and powerful as anthrax.
1. What Is Twerking?
Following the risqué duet between Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards, twerking became one of the most talked-about phenomenons of 2013. However, the provocative dance move actually originated before our girl Miley even started crawling. Twerking can be traced back to Africa, to a dance called the “Mapouka” on the Ivory Coast. The word translates humorously, though accurately, to “dance of the behind.” Twerking made its way to the states in the early 90s; in America, its roots can most reliably be traced to New Orleans in the midst of the “bounce music” phase. In 1993, DJ Jubilee released a song entitled “Jubilee All,” featuring twerking. Twerking then made its way through the South and across America. Another more recent pre-VMA example is Diplo and Nicky Da B’s “Express Yourself,” which features some pretty, um, complex examples of the popular dance move.
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