Monday, March 22, 2021

Google Search: Am I Normal?

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
We all search for a sense of identity. Some of us search by going on literal or metaphorical journeys of self-discovery, testing our limits to find out what makes us really tick. Others search Google.

It's my turn for a Google-search-based post here, so I thought I'd try to discover what Google knows about how people define themselves.

Searching "am I," here are the autocomplete suggestions:


It seems that most people are curious about their internal state, which makes sense. Even with the progress we've made in discovering more about the brain and mental health, human minds—even our own minds—are still full of mystery and confusion.

Then there are the people who suspect they are pregnant, and decide to hit up Google instead of a doctor or pregnancy test. When Google fails to tell them if they are pregnant, they try "am I pregnant quiz," and I'm not that kind of doctor, but I don't think a quiz can tell you that. Come to think of it, a quiz isn't the best way to tell you if you're depressed either.

A core part of identity is comparing yourself to everyone else. In my psychology work, trying to measure things like personality and intelligence, a consistent theme I see is that most people think they are different, but most people are not (and, mathematically, can't be). The normal curve is very normal, and so are most people. I'm sure you're just full of delightful quirks, but those are the exceptions to countless other measurable variables that you're smack dab in the middle on. A quiz can't tell you with certainty if you're depressed, but Google's auto-complete can tell you that you're not the only person trying to figure out if you're comparable to other people in how you think, who you're attracted to, or how you're feeling.

What else can Google tell us about being normal?


Ok, a lot of things about blood there. Yeah, we're all full of the stuff, sometimes it leaks out, and we all bleed the same colour. But aside from that, we are mostly searching to see if we are sadder or "crazier" than other people.

That got me thinking—is this a recent thing? 2020 was an unusual year for a lot of people. Let's look at Google Trends:


There you have it. Searches for "am I normal?" reached an all-time high in October of 2020.

It's normal to worry about being normal after a highly abnormal year.

Whether you're writing the inner workings of a character in a book, or just trying to figure yourself out, I think that it's important to remember that almost all people are struggling to figure themselves out, especially now.

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