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COVID-19 HAS altered life as we know it. When governments imposed lockdowns in March, people transformed their homes into makeshift offices, gyms and pubs. For many, crammed commutes and bustling nightlife became a distant memory. Now that countries have eased restrictions, residents are venturing outside again—but not as much as before. Globally, they made perhaps 25% fewer trips per day in July than they did in early March, according to The Economist’s analysis of Google’s phone-tracking data.
Consumer caution has hit some industries harder than others. By training a statistical model on Google’s global search data since 2016, we find that traffic for “restaurant” (or similar words in other languages) is currently 17% lower than we would usually expect for this time of year. Booze stores may be doing better, since searches for “hangover” have rebounded to a normal level for raucous July, after dwindling by 40% in March. But enquiries for “tickets” are still down by 58%. This newspaper has called the result of such an uneven recovery “the 90% economy”.
Even as people are less comfortable going out and about, Google’s data show that they are persisting with home activities they picked up months ago. Take baking, for example. “Yeast” quickly became a fad, with searches rising by 280% in April—and by 1,300% in peckish Italy. Global interest has flattened since, but is still 19% above normal. Other gastronomic words show a similar pattern. The increase for “takeout”, however, has been even greater. Kneading and proofing is not for everybody.
Though people are feasting at home, fitness has also become a priority during quarantine. Searches for “dumbbell” and “Strava”, a workout app, remain more than 60% above the usual level, despite gyms reopening. The continued interest in “electric bicycles” and “standing desks” (especially in America) shows that workers are making their transport and home offices healthier too.
Likewise, arts and crafts adopted in April have made a lasting mark. Aspiring Picassos have kept searches for “painting by numbers” at more than double their normal rate. “Hair clippers” remain fashionable among amateur barbers, as does “tie-dye” with people willing to spatter their clothes (particularly Germans, who seem to be channelling their inner Jil Sander). As with cooking, however, there are plenty of slouches who lack inspiration for such artistry. Netflix can thank them for a rate of searches that was 23% higher than usual in late July, long after March’s mania for “Tiger King” wore off.
The Google trends for many of these home entertainments suggest that their new popularity may outlast the pandemic. If so, the world could end up poorer in earnings—but richer in experiences. ■
Sources: Google; The Economist
This article appeared in the Graphic detail section of the print edition under the headline “90% economy, 120% gastronomy”
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