Our Incredibly Distorting Bubble
This morning I was browsing Lebanese blogs and I saw a link to Executive Magazine’s article on what the Lebanese googled in 2012. It was an interesting read filled with the kind of stuff I usually like: Interactive graphs, charts and photos of blond models..
But when I saw the chart on Lebanese divas, I knew that something was completely off:
Could it be? a talentless woman spiking ahead of our superstars in Lebanon twice in 2012? Something is wrong and I decided to investigate. So I redid the same google trends study but with one small but crucial change: I used the artists’ name in Arabic instead of latin. As I suspected, a completely different picture emerges:
The Arabic searches have a much higher activity volume and are therefore more representative of the population, and you see that depressed purple line in the bottom? That’s all the searches whats-her-face got in Arabic. A woman who caused a stir in the blogosphere and on my facebook newsfeed barely registers in the Arabic-speaking Lebanon.
As a Lebanese who blogs in English, I often wondered how much my voice and that of people like me (people who post stuff in English and French on facebook and read blogs like this) are influential in Lebanon. Time and time again, I’ve noticed that we live in a bubble that is not truly representative of the man on the street. I attacked Arabic language purists and made the point that even if you don’t speak Arabic you can be as Lebanese as anybody else, but that doesn’t mean that we should be under the illusion that Lebanon looks like us. Consider how Executive Magazine describes the english-only Myriam Klink chart: (emphasis mine)
There can only be one winner for this: Myriam Klink. The “3ANTER” singer’s hit about her pet pussy cat provoked one of the biggest temporary spikes of the year in Lebanese Google searches.
The first chart, without Klink, shows Haifa Wehbe, Nancy Ajram and Elissa as the top three Googled female artists overall, with the legendary Fairuz trailing a long way behind.
The man who wrote this seems to really believe that this google search is representative of Lebanon, despite the huge red flag that shows Fairuz as failing in a country that all but worships her. His attitude mirrors that of many of us who are deluded and who really believe that the majority of the Lebanese are like us.
The lesson from Egypt
Last year, ahead of the parliamentary elections in Egypt, I was following about 500 Egyptian people on twitter, most of which are “Arab Spring” type activists. The picture their tweets painted was that the elections will produce a parliament that will guide Egypt to the path of freedom and Liberty. There too reality got in the way: 75% of Egyptian voters chose Islamists to represent them in parliament. Needless to say, that was completely different from the image I had in my head from reading the twitter feed.
We (and by we I mean people like me and the people I follow on twitter and facebook) ought to really reflect on this and what it means. To make this even more obvious I will end with yet another google trends chart, this time comparing the searches for Myriam Klink (english) and مريام كلينك in Arabic: