Have a little fun to kick off this week. Type “Why is [your state] so…” into the Google search box and see what Autocomplete comes up with next. Or, alternatively, just look at this map by graphic designer Matt Shirley to see what people are searching the most about each state.
Why is California so expensive? Why is Florida so hot? My personal favorite: Why is Montana so big? These are the questions driving our collective brain trust! And in many cases, you’ll find a lot of overlap. For instance, people wonder why North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Michigan are so cold (c’mon people, how do you know the north is cold in Game of Thrones and not in North America?). And people wonder why North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas are so cheap. Shirley color-coded the map to show that overlap.
These descriptions are not truths—necessarily—but a reflection of our stereotypes. They are a view of our states as averaged by an algorithm, expecting what we’ll most likely type into that search box next.
“I’m from Kansas, so I’m a bit surprised that we have been described as windy,” says Shirley. “This description isn’t inaccurate, but I would have guessed ‘poor’ or ‘boring’ or ‘cheap’ to be higher.” Indeed, Autocomplete seems to favor negative words, like “cloudy,” “boring,” or “weird.” Alabama is something of a unicorn. Autocomplete asks, “Why is Alabama so good?”
Even if you don’t like what you read about your state, it’s still a fun little visualization. Shirley could have, of course, simply written the autocompleted words on the map itself. But by color-coding it, he gives you a punchline through the process of cross-referencing your color to the legend at the bottom. I’m from Illinois, and I am well aware of the state’s financial woes, so I wondered what we, as the only iris-colored state, must stand for. And I cackled when I learned that iris means “broke.”