Democracy Dies in Darkness

Outlook | Perspective

What the world wants

We surveyed hundreds of millions of tweets to see what people most craved this year.

December 14, 2018 at 4:57 PM

Twitter users upload about 6,000 tweets per second, and somewhere in the morass is a reflection of their deepest desires. We collected roughly 600 million posts from 2018 to understand what humans crave and adore. To extract the most common themes, we fed English-language tweets with phrases that were semantically related to “I wish,” “I want” and “I love” to our algorithms. Then we spent time reading sample tweets to knock out red herrings like sarcasm, spam and other noise, whenever we could.

The world, or at least the Twitterverse, might be unhappy. Many millions of tweets indicated that people most want love, time and good relationships, in that order. Phrases like “I wish someone cared” appeared with the highest frequency. Such sentiments made up 24 percent of all tweets starting with “I wish” or “I want.” Some expressed unrequited feelings of romantic attachment. Others were conflicted by love for family, pets or material objects.

After love and other connections (the “want” phrases were also attached to a longing for “better friends,” “healthy relationships” and “long term relationships”), what everyone craves (“I want” and “I wish”) most is more time. Many sought more time for family, hobbies, travel and exercise. Phrases like “I wish to go back in time” were included in 19.3 percent of about 220 million tweets prefaced by “I wish.” The next most-wished-for ideals were rest and better financial health. A number of tweets expressed a wish to pay student loans, for example.

Sadly, many expressed a desire to cry, die or disappear.

Ultimately, our analysis indicates that people want more meaningful relationships. The latest director of a nearly 80-year study of happiness, psychiatrist and Harvard professor Robert J. Waldinger, has found that such relationships are what make people content. As we end 2018 and begin the new year, we should listen closely to the wisdom of the crowd.

Twitter: @BariAnasse

Anasse Bari, a professor of computer science at New York University, is a co-author of “Predictive Analytics for Dummies.”

Julian De Niro is a computer science and math major at New York University.

Melanie Tosik is a master’s candidate in computer science at New York University.

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