You may know Google Trends. It takes all the searches that all the humans (and other users of Google) make, pulls them apart, and deduces what topics people are searching for. It's perhaps the closest we can get to peering into the collective consciousness—and sometimes fascinating patterns emerge.
Take this one. Our society is besotted with technology, no? Well... Maybe not. This chart shows the Google Trend for all topics counted under "Computers & Electronics," which includes mobile phones and the like. The fact is that interest in these topics—at least as measured by Google—has fallen 60 percent since January of 2004.
The trend is slightly less dour for the "Internet & Telecom" and "Online Communities."
So what's really going on here?
I have a couple thoughts: One, heavy users of technology used to have to search for ways to find software, to make software work, and the like. Now, especially on mobile platforms, the software is simpler and pretty much does what it's supposed to. All the searches to discover software are happening in the App Store, and less troubleshooting in now required. One small bit of evidence for this theory is that searches for "Games" have declined. It's not that people are playing less games, they're just not looking to Google to find them.
A second component of the decline is that in 2004, my guess is that Google's user base was mildly enriched with people who were far more interested in computers than the average person. Think about this: in mid-2005, only 37 percent of searches went through Google. The rest went through Yahoo and MSN. Google had, by and large, the savviest 37 percent of computer users. Over the years, as Google has eaten up market share— Google is up near 70 percent now—they've taken on less computer-interested users, thus contributing to this relative decline.
Maybe it goes deeper than that. One could imagine that these search volumes are an indicator of a society that's tired of technology. They don't wnat to know more about these topics, but less. Or maybe it's that technology is so embedded in other fields now that its existence as a separate category is less distinct. Computers & Electronics are everywhere, like electricity, and one assumes that "Power Plants & Motors" is not exactly trending.