Friday, March 20, 2009

The Shift In Focus

The little elves at Google sure do produce some neat products. The company still appears to be a "darling" of the public. One of their very intriguing tools is Google Trends. I've stated several times in the past that my real interest is mass human psychology. The financial markets provide a barometer of this psychology and mood. With Google Trends, you can assess what's on the minds of the people of the world. Their massive database stores historical searches that can be displayed in a time series to present the change in interest on a topic through time. On top of that, you can compare topics. I often use this tool to assess the "mind of the masses". What's the hot topic right now and is the interest rising or falling?

A recent examination reveals an interesting trend. My hypothesis was that during the initial phase of the contraction when fear kicks in, most people become very selfish. They are focused on how the abrupt change will impact them personally. In the chart below, I compare the topics of "global warming" and "economy". I believe that global warming is a topic that represents mankind's concern for the planet as a whole. This represents an individuals concern beyond themselves. While there is personal and individual concern, I contend that it's a broader topic with concern for the human race and planet as a whole. Forget about whether you believe that the planet is warming. The hypothesis under examination is "how has our focus or interest on the topic changed through time?". In contrast, I argue that the topic of "economy" is more of a selfish, personal interest. An expanding economy is good for my pocketbook, while a contracting one is not.
The chart reveals that for the majority of the time displayed, we selfishly focus on the economy. For a period of time in early 2007, we shifted more to global warming. An interesting "crossover" occurred in May of 2007. The topic of global warming peaked and abruptly declined while the economy returned to the forefront and commenced an upward trend. A sharp peak in Q3 of 2008 aligned with the beginning of the market meltdown. What's revealing is that this was a "leading indicator" of events to follow. It marks a shift in mood from "worldly" and "caring" to "local" and "selfish". One could conclude that in May 2007, the individual shifted focus from a larger perspective to one very close to themselves. If this is the case, this would be an interesting trend to monitor. Other related terms can be examined seeking validation of the theory.

Will people become more focused on themselves as this contraction evolves? The chart below reveals that "fear" is on the rise.

Another hypothesis was related to the Mexican border. A few years ago, this was such a hot topic. Lou Dobbs still can't seem to let go of it. My hypothesis was that when our personal issues become troubling, we'll stop focusing on other topics that we can't control. The chart below reveals that our interest in the Mexican border peaked in 2006. With recent events along the border relating to the drug war, it's very interesting that our radar hasn't even identified the issue. The good news is that we are much more "happy" than "sad". And, not surprisingly, we have "happy peaks" during the Christmas holidays. Maybe we should celebrate Christ's birthday more than once per year!
Another interesting application of the tool is the comparison of terminology used by the "powers that be". It appears that it was concluded that the term "stimulus" had a more positive connotation than "bailout".
From the chart below, one might conclude that the term "climate change" provided more flexibility and hence gained ground on "global warming".

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