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What Nations Were The Most Forward-Looking In 2012?

The Future Orientation index shows a strong correlation between Internet activity and its gross domestic product. Countries in blue are deemed forward-looking.

A chart ranks countries whose Internet users were more likely to seek information about the future than the past, based on Google searches.

Germany was the world's most future-oriented country in 2012, followed by Switzerland and Japan, according to the "Future Orientation Index." Researchers found that in Germany and 10 nations last year, more people used Google to search for "2013" than for "2011."

The 11 countries represent a gain over 2011, when only seven countries had as many searches for the upcoming year as for the prior one.

According to researchers who conducted the study, "the online 'future orientation' of a country is strongly correlated with the country's per capita gross domestic product (GDP)," as they wrote in Nature'sScientific Reports last April. The scientists recently released new data for 2012.

"Our Future Orientation Index reflects international differences in attention to the future and the past," says Dr. Suzy Moat, of University College London. "A greater focus on the future when making decisions may support economic success."

In 2012, the United States leapt ahead of Saudi Arabia to take the No. 11 spot, improving on its 15th-place showing in 2011, when more American Googlers looked back than forward.

The team's members, who are based in Britain, Switzerland, and the U.S., use data from Google Trends and the CIA World Factbook to compile their results. They screen out countries that have fewer than 5 million Internet users.

The study doesn't investigate the searchers' motives, but it might show "how great a role the Internet plays in citizens' day to day decision making," Moat says. "In countries where the Internet is more integrated into day to day life, we might see people searching for more information to support their future actions."

The United Kingdom took the top spot in 2011, as the country looked forward to what Moat calls "a big year" that brought not only the Summer Olympics but also Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee -- her 60th year as monarch. The U.K. fell to No. 4 in 2012, as Germany rose. Moat says Germany's focus on 2013 might stem from its upcoming national elections.

In that light, one could hypothesize that America's gains might reflect a rebounding economy, and an increase in future planning. Or, it could result from the citizenry's lack of excitement about the 2012 election season during the previous year's study.

Similarly, Japan's rise from No. 12 to the third spot could be tied to its recovery from the tsunami and earthquake disaster of 2011.

Among large countries with developing economies, Brazil led the way in 2012 at No. 9, while Russia treaded water at 37, after placing 36th last year. India gained six spots to take 31st, but China slid 10 places, down to 41 from the year before.

In both years of the study, Vietnam and Pakistan occupied the bottom two slots.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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