Google is more than just a powerful search engine. It’s a go-to for almost any question you might have. Who was President during World War I? How many ounces are in a cup? Where is my tax refund? Are dogs really better than cats?
From the mundane to the deeply meaningful, Google has our back with answers in an instant. But some questions are trickier than others. Existential questions deal with the meaning and purpose of life, and they have been pondered by philosophers and great thinkers throughout history. These burning questions still puzzle us today and some are turning to Google for answers.
At Digital Third Coast, we’re fascinated with how people use the internet to find information. We analyzed more than 8500 Google search terms to identify the top 10 existential questions people are asking the search engine. We also surveyed Americans to better understand how people use Google to answer their questions and why they use it to better understand the human condition.
Some existential questions just can’t be answered, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. People in Kansas, New York, and Vermont are asking “Who am I?” and people in California, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Texas are saying “Hey Google… What’s the meaning of life?”
Others are asking for advice. “What should I do” was the top searched question in Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, and New Hampshire. Others are clearly worried about the future. People in Oregon and Wisconsin are asking “Is everything going to be OK?”
Other questions center around faith and religion. Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, and Utah are asking Google “Is there a God?” While people in South Dakota and Mississippi want to know what happens after you die. “Why do bad things happen to good people” is the top-searched question in Delaware and North Dakota. West Virginia wants to know “Why is there evil in the world?”
Some questions carry less weight but are still perplexing. People in Maryland, New Jersey, and South Carolina are trying to answer the age-old question “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” “Why is the sky blue” was the top question in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Colorado and Virginia are hungry to know “Is a hotdog a sandwich?” and Maine and Wyoming need help to decide what’s for dinner.
While some questions are silly, others pull at the heartstrings. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Washington are asking Google “What is love?” and people in Hawaii, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island want to know if their soulmate is really out there.
While philosophers like Henry David Thoreau disconnected from society while searching for the meaning of life, many in the 21st century are turning to the world’s most popular search engine for answers. America is asking Google to answer many of life’s greatest mysteries, despite the search engine’s limitations.
The top searched existential questions in the U.S. include “Why is the sky blue?,” “What do dreams mean?,” “What is the meaning of life?,” “Do animals have souls?,” and “Why am I so tired?”
Of course, it’s not just existential questions people are asking Google… people ask the search engine just about everything! According to survey respondents, 96% said they use Google to answer questions and nearly half said Google is their first stop on their quest for information. As for how often people are asking Google questions, 55% said they use Google multiple times a day and are asking an average of 10 questions daily. 1 in 5 said they couldn’t go a day without consulting Google.
1 in 3 Americans have asked Google an existential question about life, the top reason being for research. Others said they ask Google questions about life because they’re bored, can’t ask a human these questions, or they want unbiased answers. Some ask search engines these questions to feel less lonely.
Many are straight up asking Google for advice in their lives. Nearly half of Americans said they have asked Google for advice, and 55% said they trust the advice given. Less than 1 in 10 would go to an AI chatbot first and 1 in 5 trust Google more than friends and family.
While not everyone is asking for Google’s advice, there is a near-universal agreement that it shouldn’t be the only place consulted. In fact, 96% believe people should do additional research after getting advice from Google.
We analyzed 8,647 Google search terms related to questions about life. For state-level data, we looked at search volume per capita averages over the past 12 months.
In May 2023, we surveyed 800 participants to learn more about how they use Google to answer their questions. 50% were male, 49% female, and 1% were nonbinary. Respondents ranged in age between 18 and 83. The average age was 41.
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