Humankind’s search for meaning during Covid

Every year Google releases its retrospective, Year in Search, showing some of the most popular searches for the annum. It comes as no surprise that 2020’s overarching ones were Covid-19 related — both serious questions about the virus and lighter ones, such as how to bake sourdough (which beat banana bread it turns out), how to brew pineapple beer, how to do fractions or how to cut hair.

What was surprising, however, was the rise in the number of searches around the world asking for ways to help in a time when people could have been at their most self-involved.

According to Google, the top trending “how to help” searches were: how to help Australia fires, how to help Black Lives Matter, how to help during coronavirus and how to help Beirut.

Searches for ways to be an influencer are apparently consistently high every year, but this quest was replaced by “how to be an ally?”

“All over the world, we saw this shift in values as people turned their energies to being supportive, empathetic, and taking a stand for voices unheard,” Google said.


“How to donate” was searched twice as much as “how to save” and “how to support small businesses” also doubled. In a similar vein, “how to be anti-racist” was searched more times than “how to be a millionaire” in June, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing.

“Black Lives Matter” was searched globally — five times more than in 2019 — and “how to stop climate change” was keyed in more than ever. 

“Virtual Museum” was the top-trending online activity but meditation was also popular. The top-trending dance was the coffin dance, not the Jerusalema. 

One activity that was particularly sought after was “sunset near me” as people chose to appreciate this daily gift.

But others needed reminding “what day is it?” which struck an all-time high in the early lockdown days of April.

Quite comfortingly, many of us looked for “a better future more than we wished to return to the past. How to change the world was searched twice as much as how to go back to normal”. 

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Leizl Eykelhof
Leizl Eykelhof is a subeditor at the Mail & Guardian

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