Why you should care
Because you should be looking ahead too.
Germans aren’t known for their sense of humor, which is both unfair and unfortunate. (This, after all, is the nation behind the word rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz — “law delegating beef-label monitoring” — and that, boys and girls, is pure comedy.) But what they lack in comedic reputation they make up for in something else: forward thinking. Turns out this industrious country is light-years ahead when it comes to pondering the future.
Germany is the most forward-looking country in the world.
The knack for planning ahead goes beyond building Volkswagens and Mercedes. According to an analysis of 45 billion searches on Google Trends, Germany, more than any other country, took its time to weigh the future — at least on the internet. A team of researchers at the Warwick Business School scoured tens of billions of queries on the search engine giant during 2015, weighing how many times “2016” was searched compared with “2014” in 45 countries. Events like the Olympics, elections or major disasters from yesteryear tipped the scale from one side to the other, says Suzy Moat, an associate professor of behavioral science at WBS. So, who are the top contenders wondering what their fortunes hold? That would be Germany, Switzerland and Austria, with Kazakhstan and Pakistan among the most past-dwelling.
In fact, thinking about the future may just be a first-world problem. The research reveals a correlation between countries with higher per capita GDP and how much they look to the future, says Tobias Preis, an associate professor of behavioral science and finance at WBS. In other words, people in richer countries are more likely to dig for information about their futures — planning their next big vacation, for example, or getting ahead on who’s running for office. Google is a vast reservoir of information that people tap into daily, says Preis. He calls it “human decision-making on a large scale” — even before national elections, massive sporting events or world summits take place, they’re Googled.
However, the data doesn’t distinguish between countries that are auspiciously looking ahead and those that are anxious about the future. For example, trying to pin down when an earthquake will strike Japan might not bode well for the future of the nation. Even so, countries may gain more from looking ahead than just being more prepared. Like a company brand, countries that are perceived as forward-looking could cull more foreign investment, tourism, international trade deals and other economic gains that they wouldn’t reap otherwise, says David Reibstein, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
Turns out, your search history could reveal more than just your kinks.