Do you know what happens when you live in New York and you type the words “why am” into Google? Before you can type the next word, Google’s Autocomplete function helpfully offers to complete your thought. The first suggestion: “why am I so tired?” The second: “why am I always tired?” The Zeitgeist perfectly captured by Google.

As the Belgian philosopher Pascal Chabot has put it, burnout is “civilization’s disease.”

True, the results of an algorithm lack the nuance and intellectual heft of a philosophical diagnosis, and the results are regional, but Autocomplete provides a valuable window into the questions we’re asking. As Google explains, “The search queries that you see as part of Autocomplete are a reflection of the search activity of users and the content of web pages.” These predictions are powered by an algorithm “based on a number of objective factors, including how often past users have searched for a term.”

As Arwa Mahdawi wrote last year in The Guardian:

Google has become something of the secular equivalent of a confessional box. Within the confines of a search bar you can ask questions or express opinions you would never admit to in public. Our most popular searches are, to some degree, an uncensored chronicle of what, as a society, we’re thinking but not necessarily saying.

While we as individuals are not always willing to talk about how tired we are, there’s more evidence than ever that we’ve reached crisis levels. As one young woman told me during a Q&A session in San Francisco, “I don’t remember the last time I was not tired.”

Bill Clinton, who used to famously get only five hours of sleep a night, admitted, “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.” And Hillary Clinton, after stepping down as Secretary of State, told Gail Collins that her goal was “to see whether I can get untired.”

Hillary Clinton, as my simple, half-completed Google search suggests, is not alone in wanting to know whether we can get untired.

One other point on Google’s page explaining Autocomplete stood out to me: “Just like the web, the search terms shown may seem silly, strange, or surprising.”

A few minutes spent typing random words (or celebrity names) into your Google search bar confirm this. But in the case of our tired civilization, there’s nothing silly, strange or particularly surprising. Actually, the thought of so many people hunched over their laptops or iPhones, asking Google, “Why am I so tired?” or “Why am I always tired?” is really sad. And the answer is not going to be given to us by an algorithm. But we can start by shutting off our devices and getting some sleep.

Please let me know what happens when you Google “why am” in your area of the country or the world.


Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com.

Author(s)

  • Arianna Huffington

    Founder & CEO of Thrive

    Arianna Huffington is the founder and CEO of Thrive, the founder of The Huffington Post, and the author of 15 books, including Thrive and The Sleep Revolution. In 2016, she launched Thrive, a leading behavior change tech company with the mission of changing the way we work and live by ending the collective delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success. She has been named to Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people and the Forbes Most Powerful Women list. Originally from Greece, she moved to England when she was 16 and graduated from Cambridge University with an M.A. in economics. At 21, she became president of the famed debating society, the Cambridge Union. She serves on numerous boards, including Onex and The B Team. Her last two books, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder and The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night At A Time, both became instant international bestsellers. Most recently, she wrote the foreword to Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive: End Burnout, Increase Well-being, and Unlock Your Full Potential with the New Science of Microsteps.