Writers of the past had absinthe, whiskey, or heroin. I have Google. I go there intending to stay five minutes and next thing I know, seven hours have passed, I've written 43 words, and all I have to show for it is that I know the titles of every episode of Nanny and the Professor.

—Michael Chabon, author, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

One day when the cartoon character Drabble congratulated his boss for being the first human being ever to fail the Turing test, "Turing test" became the most searched word on Google. This was a testament to the popularity of Drabble and a clue to the Zeitgeist of newspaper readers.

So here we are at one of the most entertaining and even useful unintended consequences of a great search engine—Zeitgeist. Google makes it possible to gauge what a great many people are thinking about and possibly considering doing at any one time. The sense of anonymity of the Internet engenders an astounding level of frankness.

The word Zeitgeist comes from the German language, but traces its roots to Latin. It is a translation of genius seculi. Genius is the Latin word for "guardian spirit," and seculi means "of the century." The word has come to describe the intellectual and cultural climate of an era. In the past, writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and artists like Salvador Dali have captured Zeitgeist, but never before has there been such an accurate, to-the-moment scientific measure as the one created by Google.

Google Zeitgeist, ...

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