Do We Really Care About Steve Jobs?

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I was on my way to dinner last night when I read the news that Steve Jobs was resigning from his position as Apple’s CEO on Twitter. I don’t remember who said it first, exactly, but soon my stream was flooded with reports, rumors and retweets discussing his transition to Executive Chairman. Facebook? Essentially said the same thing.

A few people made light of the situation. Some played the “Who’s Steve Jobs?” card. Most others seemed to wish Apple’s visionary the best, at least health-wise.

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Here’s the thing: People care. Twitter, Facebook and Google seem especially well bred for these powerful cultural upticks to gauge what exactly it is people are talking about: Michael Jackson’s passing, Osama bin Laden finally being found, or even the Virginia earthquake from just two days ago.

So I decided to try and figure out how much people care. And what better way to do that than look at what they’re searching?

Here’s a plot from Google Insights starting in January for the search term “Steve Jobs” — the filters I used were for “time ranges,” “news,” and “worldwide.”

The two big spikes occurred in January ([F] when he announced his leave of absence) and again in late February (when the world caught wind that the iPad 2 was coming out [E]). At [C] is the iCloud announcement that occurred in June. Strangely, there’s no spike for yesterday’s news in August (or maybe just not yet).

Here’s where most of those searches were coming from:

Singapore comes in at number one, with Hong Kong (maybe it’s the fake Apple store there?), Switzerland and Italy all preceding the United States.

Here are the actual search terms that people were stringing together.

Alright, so “Steve Jobs” and “health” seemed to be beating out a lot of the other searches. I decided to head over to Google Correlate to look at the relationship between the two terms.

Here, the data is plotted as far back as 2003. That mild spike in 2004 is when he first announced to his employees that he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Then there’s a few years of normalcy until mid-2008, when rumors began to swirl that Jobs’ fragility was actually more than a mere “common bug,” at least according to the New York Times. Then we see “health” and “Steve Jobs” switched on again for January and February in 2011, with that last spike occurring after yesterday’s announcement.

As for Twitter? The company’s been looking to edge out Bitly and other stat-tracking competitors (such as Backtweets, which it purchased), so for now, the actual stats are in its hands. If it mentions anything about a spike in traffic later today, we’ll let you know. I asked TIME’s social media guru Allie Townsend how we actually did on Twitter when the news began to break, and though we’re not allowed to disclose the actual numbers, I’ll just say that lots and lots of people were very, very responsive.

I guess it’s safe to conclude that yes, plenty of people appear to care about Apple’s longtime leader and what he’s done to shape our culture.

So take care, Steve. Looks like lots of folks are pullin’ for you.

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Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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