The Filipino Soul According to Google
By Nino Gonzales
If you are Filipino, you have probably asked yourself, “What does it mean to be Filipino?” or “Who is the Filipino?” Some will answer with history: our collective experience of three hundred years as a colony of the Spanish Empire, half-a-century under the Americans, and our shared struggles as a young nation in the last few decades. Some will have a more mystical viewpoint: the Filipino soul has existed in the ancient tribes in these islands and would have developed into a nation regardless of history. And some think we are Filipinos because of Manny Paquiao. This study, if you could call it that, tries to answer the same question. Yet, it is not as ambitious. It does not try to explain the origins of Filipino. It only tries to describe the Filipino. How can we know what lies in the depths of the Filipino soul? It answers: know what the Filipino seeks and you will know who the Filipino is.
Google, our modern oracle
In ancient times, as now, we allowed the oracle to see the depths of our souls. Our ancestors went to their oracles to tell them the secrets of the world. In the end, it was really the oracle who got to see the secrets of their hearts. A father may have asked about the future of his daughter, or a widower about her deceased husband, or a young warrior about the fate of the war. When they did, the oracle got to know what they most cared about. Google has become the oracle of our age. When we need that phone number to order pizza, we ask Google. When we need to know what “hematology” means, we search Google. And as befits a modern oracle, Google has been asked by many people around the world, “What is the meaning of life?”
How do we know this? Unlike the oracles of old, Google shares to the whole world what the whole world is searching for. They have a tool called Google Trends, which shows the trend of people's searches since 2004. Google Trends also compares the frequency of searches between countries and ranks them by that criterion. For instance, if there are 100 total searches from Singapore and 7 of them are “what is the meaning of life,” that search will have a score of 7%. And if there are 1000 total searches from Mexico and 50 of them are “what is the meaning of life,” Mexicans will have a score of 5% for this particular search. Singapore will thus be ranked higher than Mexico for “what is the meaning of life.”
Guess who actually has the highest rank for searching “what is the meaning of life”? Believe it or not, it is the Philippines. This means that among all peoples, Filipinos have the greatest tendency to ask Google what the meaning of life is. I could not remember the first trend I saw where Filipinos came in first. But as I tried more and more words in Google Trends, I saw certain areas being dominated by Filipinos. It was an exciting discovery. It was like taking a peek at the collective mind of the Filipino nation. Some of these areas were not really surprising. For example, we are number one in searching for “God.” Others were quite unexpected. For instance, we are the top seekers of “atheism,” “john maxwell,” and “high school musical.”
I did not count the total number of words I checked in Google Trends. However, I recorded the more indicative ones and they total to about two hundred. All of them are results from September 2008 (they might change in the future). I grouped them into several categories (eg, showbiz, cosmic world-view, money, literature). The results of the study are below. I give my interpretation of the findings for each category. A warning: I have exercised a level of scientific rigor that would make a palm-reader seem like Newton. Another caveat is the data. Google does not explain in detail how they normalize their data. And that data is only from Google users from the Philippines and the rest of the world. Are they representative of the minds of their countries? I don't know the answers to these. But let us throw scientific caution to the wind in this study, because if you are Filipino, you will feel in your gut the truth in these results:
Filipinos are Christian in particular and philosophical in general
As you will see in the first table below, we top in things Christians, and in particular, things Catholic. This is not surprising. After all, we are more than 90% Christian and more than 80% Catholic. Perhaps what is more surprising is that we also top searches for other -isms. We are in the top three for “atheism,” “taoism” and almost all of the major eastern religions. Similarly, we top the political -isms like Capitalism and Communism.
My immediate reaction was to attribute this to the inordinate number of students among our internet users doing their assignments in religion or social studies. However, we also top “practical” philosophical questions like “how to be happy,” and, as mentioned above, “what is the meaning of life.” This surely isn't part of any school assignment. A reasonable interpretation of Tables 2 and 3 sounds almost counter-intuitive: among the English-speaking countries, we have the most philosophical of concerns.
That conclusion highlights one limitation of this study. The apples-to-apples comparison only applies to other English-speaking countries. For instance, we may top the search for “Jesus Christ,” since we are only competing against other English speaking countries, like South Africa (2nd) and the United States (3rd). The comparison is more inclusive for proper names used across languages. For instance, “Jesus,” which is spelled the same in Spanish, puts us only at 3rd place.
Top Professions: Call Center, Nursing, Priesthood, Law and Medicine
Another aspect of our identity is our professional aspirations. This was not difficult to predict. We top in searches for “call center,” “nursing,” “priesthood,” “law,” and “medicine.” Among these, only call center work is a new popular professional option. The rest are traditional aspirations of Filipino families for their youth. We also have high ranks for “entrepreneurship” (2nd), “how to get rich” (1st), “business” (3rd) and “social entrepreneurship” (2nd).
Perhaps this reflects our young population. Who would want to search for professions but those who have yet to choose one? This is confirmed by our being first place in school-related searches: “fraternity,” “hazing,” “mathematics,” “science” and “literature.” This is also confirmed by our being absent in the top ranks of the more boring aspects of money and economics: “savings,” “investment,” “personal finance.” However, we score higher in its more controversial aspects: “inflation” (5th), “brain drain” (2nd) and “economic crisis” (1st).
We could easily test whether the youth is overrepresented in Google searches from the Philippines. The youth's concern in pimples would probably the same all over the world. But if you check the ranking for “pimples,” we come up number one again. This could mean that we have more young people among our Google users. Or this could mean we are the vainest people on earth, something entirely plausible.
We are hopeless romantics
If one just spends a few minutes listening to Filipino songs or watching Filipino shows, one could already see that we are hopeless romantics. With Google Trends, we can boast that we are the most hopeless romantics in the world. We are number one in seeking for “love,” “romance,” “friend” and “heart.”
This is perhaps the reason why we are suckers for mushy music. And our mushiness cuts across age and social backgrounds. We top in searches for Air Supply, David Pomeranz, Michael Learns to Rock, Mandy Moore, Barry Manilow, Mariah Carey, and Josh Groban. If you try out the different musical genres from Reggae to Rock to Hip-hop, the only one we top is Emo. This genre has been the pariah among the rock music community because of its whining and wrist-slashing mushiness.
This shows that some “international” acts are really Filipino phenomena. Air Supply, David Pomeranz and Michael Learns to Rock may come from abroad, but their fanbase is certainly Filipino. The same can be said in some best-sellers in Philippine fashion. Havaianas and Crocs may be international brands, but it seems we provide the bulk of their revenues.
Books: Gaiman, Rice, Coelho, Maxwell, Covey, Grisham, Ludlum
One way of finding out the literary preference of Filipinos is to take a look at the bestseller lists of local bookstores. But if we make use of Google Trends, we can see what books and authors we like more than other countries. According to Google Trends, these authors are Neil Gaiman, Anne Rice, John Maxwell, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Robert Ludlum and Paolo Coelho. Books I found that have Filipinos as its number one seekers are The Little Prince, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Sophie's World, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Da Vinci Code and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We also seek “comics,” “spiderman” and “superman” more than the rest of the world.
I really don't know what to make of this, except that our reading populace is made up of young people (Gaiman, Coelho, comics) and corporate folks (John Maxwell and 7 Habits). Sophie's World sort of confirms our interest in philosophy. It seems we also like books which combine our philosophical bent with mushiness (The Little Prince and Jonathan Livingston Seagull).
We like American entertainment more than the Americans
Perhaps the only thing more predictable than our religiosity and sentimentality is our love for American entertainment. In fact, we love it so much that we rank higher than the Americans for several shows. We are number one for American Idol, Gossip Girl and High School Musical. I checked if we also like the seedier side of American showbiz. What a relief it was to not see the Philippines in the top seekers of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Perhaps the Filipino has an innate ear for singing talent, since we are number one instead for Mandy Moore and Mariah Carey.
The American entertainment we most like is undoubtedly basketball, and Google Trends confirms this. We are number one for “basketball” and “NBA.” The other sports we love more than the rest of the world are boxing, volleyball and chess. We also love badminton, but not as much as the Malaysians.
We seem to be interested in other cultures aside from the Americans. We are in the top spots for Japanese (2nd after Singapore), Korean (2nd after South Korea) and Chinese (4th). It looks like we have almost totally forgotten about our three hundred years with the Spanish Empire; we are no where to be seen in the top seekers of “spanish.” Yet, the white man has left a lasting legacy. We are the number one seekers of “skin whitening” and “rhinoplasty.”
Different Filipino cities, different interests
It's also interesting to look at who top searches among Filipinos. You can do this by limiting the geographical criteria to the Philippines. For instance, we could say that the people of Cagayan de Oro are the mushiest among us. The folks from Misamis Oriental are the biggest suckers for Havaianas and Crocs. Davaoenos are the ones most interested in “business” and “Jesus” among Filipinos. The people from Muntinlupa seek jobs the most. With Trends, we could confirm the claims of certain cities of being capitals of something. For instance, Cebuanos could rightly claim being the “reggae capital of the Philippines.” On the other hand, Iloilo, the claimant of “football capital of the Philippines,” is no where to be found among the top seekers of “football” or “soccer.” Pasig is interested in Facebook and call center jobs, the city of Manila is most interested in “hello garci,” Muntinglupa is looking for “help,” and so on... There's enough material here for another study.
We can learn many things about our interest as a people from Google Trends. For instance, the Christian influence in our culture is very obvious. And it is indisputable that we are the most basketball-crazy people on earth. We are the biggest fans of many American shows and of certain authors. And our musical and literary taste reveal our sentimentality. It also shows some surprising results. We are number one for both “philosophy” and “Gossip Girl.” How insane is that?
This just goes to show that we shouldn't rely too much in these results. Internet penetration in the Philippines is only at 16%. That figure will even be lower if we remove the people who don't use Google. Google Trends data only represents those who could afford to access the internet, and is probably overrepresented by the youth. And you have to consider the demographic mix of the countries we compare ourselves to, as well as their usage of Google and the English language.
However accurate it is now, data from Google Trends will only get better in the future. As more and more people around the world get access to the internet and use Google, Trends will reflect better and better the interests of peoples. But even now I think what it tells us has the ring of truth. And however reliable these results are, it's certainly fun seeing the Filipino from the eyes of a modern oracle.
Others' observations on Filipinos and Google Trends
As I was completing this “study,” I checked whether my discoveries were original. I did this, of course, by searching for them with Google. As with most things these days, people have already discovered my “discoveries” first, some as early as 2005. As far as I could tell, my only original contributions are the Filipino's philosophical bent, literary tastes, professional aspirations and mushiness. Here is a list of those other blog entries and articles:
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This study was originally published in my Wikipedia subpage. I'm transferring it here because some deletionist Nazi has started removing the images.
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