Published: Aug. 8, 2002

In the span of each human life there are a few resonant moments when the world conspires to remind us of the passage of time, moments when the clock is simply too loud to ignore.

For the first time, you notice the late-night television host has a few references in his monologue that are utterly lost on you.

You realize that most of the music in your car was originally released on vinyl LPs.

While shopping for clothes you remember that you have perfectly good shirts in your closet that are older than that sullen salesgirl with the interesting hair and the tattoos.

I must confess that I recently had such a moment -- where I felt my grip on popular culture loosening, if not slipping.

Google, Lycos and Yahoo, as part of their ongoing efforts to be the coolest thing since, compile and publish stats on the top search queries they're processing. These greatest-hits lists are instant snapshots of our fast-twitch, media-driven culture. Yahoo's Buzz Index, at, tracks the most frequent searches of the day and the queries that have increased in popularity the most from the previous day. The Lycos 50, at, is a Billboard-style weekly list of hits and top movers -- complete with commentary by a professional chart-watcher, Aaron Schatz.

Google Zeitgeist, at, charts queries that are gaining or losing the most traffic that week or month. Yahoo breaks down the results into a few large categories such as music and movies. Google also breaks its stats down in a few quirky categories ''top soccer players,'' ''Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams.'' (On the downside, some of the Google stats can be more than a month old.)

So what is at the forefront of our collective consciousness these days? As of this week, it wasn't exactly monetary policy and Middle East peace initiatives. If the lists were a cultural literacy test in 10 or 20 questions, I earned a ''C'' at best.

It was a simply god-awful realization: While the rest of humanity had snuck out to a hip-hop concert, I was the rumpled old man left in the back room, humming Perry Como songs and waiting for the afternoon's ''Matlock'' rerun to begin.

I have a feeling I may not be alone in that realization. All three of the lists were heavy with teen pop sensations and movie stars who will probably have the career longevity of a fruit fly. (Tell me: Are Avril Lavigne and Vin Diesel household names in your household? They were both among the top queries on the Web this week.)

The global view is equally incomprehensible. To wit: According to Google, the top music query in Spain for the month of June was Las Ketchup -- and the No. 3 was Salsa Baile. They're big on condiments in Cordoba.

Lycos, quite mercifully, appends a little explanatory tag on each entry in the Top 50 for those who somehow missed the latest issue of Teen People. But a run down the Yahoo list this week proved to be a rocky ride for this addlepated columnist. Of the top 20 query terms, I came up clueless on four: Dragon Ball Z and Yu-Gi-Oh! (Japanese anime), Neopets (virtual pets) and the aforementioned Lavigne (a reputed pop star of the moment).

Maybe it's just me. But maybe it's not.

It's possible that these instant metrics don't really represent the spirit of the age. Rather they may be grossly over-representing the hormone-drenched, mercurial world inhabited only by 12-to-14-year-olds.

Think of cultural literacy as a cone. Kids need to be conversant on an amazingly narrow base of subjects to be considered adequately au courant by their peers. A few well-muscled action heroes, a handful of hip-hop divas and they're set. As we age, our interests naturally broaden and deepen. We oldsters are simply navigating by a larger, more detailed cognitive map.

While they're thinking about Las Ketchup, I'm thinking about Louis Jordan and Yo La Tengo. While they're thinking ''Blue Crush'' I'm thinking ''Wings of Desire.'' I'll see your ''Powerpuff Girls'' and raise you Lynda Barry and ''Krazy Kat.'' Yes, I am swimming against the cultural tide. And no, I do not want to get out of the pool just yet. Still, it's understood that for every person of my age who's killing cubicle time surfing for ''Stickley furniture'' and ''Cinnabar cabernet'' there are 400 ninth graders all searching simultaneously for Shakira and Eminem.

They may have me outnumbered but . . .

Wait. They may have me outnumbered but . . . but what? Just gimme a sec. It'll come to me . . .

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