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On the web, Germans win at looking ahead

U. WARWICK / UCL (UK) — Millions of Google searches from 2012 reveal that Germany looked to the future online more than any other country, say researchers.

The UK, which held the number one spot in 2011, has been knocked off its perch as the most forward-looking country and is ranked fourth in 2012.

A focus on upcoming general elections, scheduled for this year, may drive Germany’s rise up the charts in 2012. (Credit: U. Warwick)

The Future-Orientation Index is the work of Tobias Preis of the University of Warwick Business School and Helen Susannah Moat of University College London. Preis, Moat, and colleagues began the annual rankings in 2012 in Scientific Reports.

They analyzed millions of Google logs from 2012 from 45 different countries to calculate the ratio of the volume of searches for “2013″ to the volume of searches for “2011.”

Previous research using this search data has shown that countries with internet users who search for more information about the future tend to have a higher per-capita GDP.

The Future-Orientation Index for 2012 shows Germany as the nation most focused on the future, with Japan second, Switzerland third, and the UK fourth. At the bottom of the rankings are Pakistan, Vietnam, and Kazakhstan.

In 2011 the UK was the nation most focused on 2012 in comparison to 2010, as the country prepared for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Poland and Ukraine also ranked higher in 2011, in the lead up to their joint hosting of the European Football Championships in 2012, but fell 11 and 13 places each in 2012.

A focus on upcoming general elections, scheduled for this year, may drive Germany’s rise up the charts in 2012.

Nigeria was the biggest climber in 2012, moving up 15 places and despite its economy entering its fifth recession in 15 years, Japan also made a big leap up the Future-Orientation Index, rising from ninth to third.

“In general we find a strong tendency for countries in which Google users enquire more about the future to exhibit a larger per capita GDP,” says Preis, associate professor of behavioral science and finance at Warwick Business School.

“There seems to be a relationship with the economic success of a country and the information seeking behavior of its citizens online.”

“We see two leading explanations for this relationship between search activity and GDP,” adds Moat, of the department of civil, environmental, and geomatic engineering.

“Firstly, these findings may reflect international differences in attention to the future and the past, where a focus on the future supports economic success.

“Secondly, these findings may reflect international differences in the type of information sought online, perhaps due to economic influences on available Internet infrastructure.”

(Credit: U. Warwick)

Source: University of Warwick

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  1. rick

    interesting, but 1) did they attempt to assess so-called ‘reverse causality’ — in this case, people who are struggling (low GDP countries?) are more focused on survival in the present. Also: 2) how about a few details on how the “future” index is constructed? I hope my wish list at Amazon doesn’t count in the future searches.

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