I started to follow the data visualization industry pretty closely circa 1998. Through a consulting engagement with a pre-IPO client at the time, I learned about the science behind visualization technologies, and I even got to play with some of the “toys” that the industry had just started to produce.
Since then, I’ve been hooked on data. As a marketer and thinker, I often found myself caught up in the euphoria about the predictive and explanatory potential of “Big Data”. But instead of resisting or embracing the euphoria, I simply started to use data analysis tools more regularly, and I find that even free products such as Google Trends can help marketers and researchers in unexpected ways.
For example, a team of researchers led by complex systems scientist Tobias Preis found a strong correlation between national GDP and the predisposition of the country’s inhabitants to look forward. In a separate study, the research team used Google Trends data to identify online precursors for stock market moves. More relevant for marketers, Google Trends can spot and predict important cultural moments, emerging movements and subtle shifts in the intellectual climate.
Here are some Google Trends visualizations I developed. In separate posts, I’ll share my own interpretations. But in many ways, the data evocatively speaks for itself. The specific data points I included here were inspired by Richard Posner’s 2001 book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. Here, Posner developed the thesis that the status and role of public intellectuals in the United States has been deteriorating for decades. Posner attributes the marginalization of intellectual rock stars to academic overspecialization. However, I believe that the data below point to a more fundamental shift in the intellectual climate.