Our Google Searches Reveal Our Financial Dreams

The other week, after I read the amazing Wired essay Disney’s $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband, I did some Google searching.

“Disneyland MagicBand”

“Does Disneyland have MagicBand”

“When will Disneyland get MagicBand”

Sadly, this magical smart wristband that acts as credit card and itinerary planner is only available at Walt Disney World. (For now. I’d bet it’ll hit Disneyland in a year.) And I wasn’t searching “Disneyland MagicBand” because I wanted to plan a trip to Disneyland right away; I just wanted to dream about it a little and imagine the day when I might walk into the Blue Bayou restaurant and hear the host say “Hello, Nicole and all of your friends who have also come to Disneyland with you. I hope you are enjoying your Disney experience. Your table is ready.”

I’m not the only person who uses Google as a way of imagining and experimenting with financial aspirations. Pacific Standard recently reported on a new study suggesting that the less financially secure we feel, the more time we spend online looking at luxury items.

The article, Income Inequality Inspires Interest in Luxury Items, explains:

“We found that, of the 40 search terms used more frequently in states with greater income equality, more than 70 percent were classified as referring to status goods (such as designer brands, expensive jewelry, and luxury clothing),” [University of Warwick psychologists] report in the journal Psychological Science.
While the researchers have no way of knowing how many of these fur vests and designer rain boots were actually purchased, their results suggest a larger rich-poor gap prompts people to spend “cognitive resources and time” searching for ways to keep up the appearance of affluence.

Part of me wants to joke about how of course people with lower incomes spend more “cognitive resources and time” searching for fur vests online; rich people have staff to search for fur vests for them. (Also, obligatory image of Montgomery Burns and his vests.) But I suspect that this is only part of the truth. We search for what we want, whether or not we end up buying it, and Google keeps a record.

A Fixr.com infographic titled What Cost Is Each State Obsessed With gives us an actual map of these search records; we learn that Alaskans search for the cost of a gallon of milk, while South Dakotans search for the cost of a vasectomy. A few miles south, Nebraskans search for the cost of a keg and Kansans search for the cost of a marriage license. The entire map is fascinating.

If you’re willing to share: what aspirational items do you search for? I’ll tell you that, in addition to Disney MagicBands, I search for gorgeous clothes that I cannot afford and do not plan to buy. I also search for media on the hopes that today will be the day that the Kindle book is dropped to $2.99. Sometimes, if there’s a 300-person-long hold at the library, I just buy the Kindle book anyway.
Photo credit: Quentin Meulepas