An odd little news item this week offers an interesting glimpse into the latest shift in the still-rapid evolution of the Internet.
The occasion was Yahoo!'s announcement of its Top 10 Searches of 2006. On first glance, the list is surprising, then mortifying, then illuminating.
Let me explain:
When I say the first reaction is surprise, I mean that it is very unlikely that you could ever guess in advance what this list looks like.
Yahoo! thoughtfully breaks the list down into 11 categories -- an overall list of Top 10 searches, then 10 vertical categories, ranging from Top 10 sports team searches to a bizarre Top 10 celebrity baby searches to the Top 10 blog searches.
Now, take a second to guess the Top 10 searches of 2006. Ready? Here they are:
1. Britney Spears
4. Jessica Simpson
5. Paris Hilton
6. American Idol
7. Beyonce Knowles
8. Chris Brown
9. Pamela Anderson
10. Lindsay Lohan
Surprised? Even if you were a cynical elitist and assumed that the Web these days was overrun with rednecks, National Enquirer readers, and the booboisie, would you have come up with this list?
Would you have predicted that every name on the Top 10 list would come from pop culture -- no Iraq, no elections, no Super Bowl, no nothing but pop stars, pop tarts and pop institutions?
Even then, would you have put Shakira at No. 3?
Trust me, I've seen that YouTube compilation video, and that girl's got some kind of shimmy, but the No. 3 search topic for the year?
I can believe Britney Spears, that paragon of commando motherhood, at the top of the list. Hilton, Lohan and Simpson I can perhaps understand, and maybe the suddenly aged Beyonce (apparently she just gained seven years, thanks to her leaked birth certificate).
But what is the literally aged Pamela Anderson doing on that list? And who the hell is Chris Brown?
So it's one long list of trashy pop stars, with two trashy pop culture institutions thrown in for good measure.
It's all pretty depressing stuff -- and yet another reminder of just how shallow and celebrity-obsessed our culture has become.
The Canadian media are laughing at the list, saying it shows just how stupid Americans really are -- as if their list, which features the same crap plus hockey, makes them models of worldly sophistication.
The vertical lists aren't much more edifying.
Under top news stories, two weird deaths -- Steve Irwin and Anna Nicole Smith's son -- beat out the Iraq War, the fight in Lebanon, and the 2006 elections.
By now it's hard to be shocked, though.
Top 10 celebrity babies? Suri Cruise and Shiloh Jolie-Pitt edged out those two well-tended K-Fed kids, followed by names -- Moses Martin, Grier Hammond Henchy, Dannielynn Hope Marshall Stern -- that if you actually recognize, it probably suggests you need to get a real life.
Top 10 sports teams? The New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys are, predictably, one and two. Unexpectedly, Manchester United is No. 5 and Arsenal FC No. 6, though on reflection they are essentially the Yankees and Cowboys of British soccer.
Interestingly, Real Madrid is No. 9 (I picture millions of housewives secretly eyeballing David Beckham), and there are no NBA teams.