Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
This comic is the first of five consecutive comics published in the week before and during the solar eclipse occurring on Monday, August 21, 2017 which was a total solar eclipse visible within a band across the contiguous United States from west to east, and visible as a partial eclipse across the entire contiguous United States and beyond. The other comics are 1877: Eclipse Science, 1878: Earth Orbital Diagram, 1879: Eclipse Birds, and 1880: Eclipse Review.
Cueball comes to tell Megan about a cool map showing that searches on Google on the word Eclipse trace the same path across the USA as the totality band does, implying that those living in the zone are more interested than the rest of the US population.
The "cool map" is hosted by The Washington Post and sourced from Google Trends data. The link shown in the comic is here: wapo.st/2vkgIBv (subscription required); an archived version is available here at archive.org
Since the eclipse searches are outpacing the 2016 election searches now, this is saying the eclipse popularity is going to rocket upwards just before the eclipse. Cueball is thus warned by Megan that the extreme amount of social media interest in the eclipse may lead to massive traffic jams, as last days frenzy regarding the eclipse will cause an enormous amount of people to decide to go to the eclipse in the last moment, causing huge traffic jams. Also as soon as people driving on the freeway enters the totality zone it has been seen happening that people just stop their cars and get out blocking the roads. This time also the eclipse-viewers will wish to post their content on the social media which might also cause a cyber traffic jam, in which users may find that they experience delays in sending or receiving data due to a high demand on telecommunications infrastructure. Megan tells Cueball to bring water if he is on the road during the totality, the implication being that people who are on the road may be stuck in their vehicles for long periods of time, and thus need refreshments.
In the graph charting interest in the 2016 US presidential election, November 8 is an important date as it was the day the election was held. August 21, 2017 refers to the date of the then upcoming solar eclipse.
The title text refers to the total eclipses from 1970 and 1979 which were also visible in the US, but both only for a few states. The traffic jams will be worse than those caused by previous eclipses, as we did not have viral social media in the 1970s, and also much less traffic on the roads.
- [Cueball walks up to Megan while holding his smartphone up in his hand. Megan sits in an office chair in front of her desk with an open laptop on it. She turns her head towards him. A footnote to Cueball's speech is at the bottom right of the panel.]
- Cueball: Have you seen this cool map* showing how Google searches for "eclipse" trace the eclipse's path?
- Megan: Yeah!
- Megan: But you know what else I noticed?
- Cueball: What?
- Footnote: *wapo.st/2vkgIBv
- [Two panels are on top of each other. In the smaller top panel a colored graph is shown with a blue growing graph and a steeper growing red graph above it. Both are labeled. The x-axis (a black line) has labels and arrows below it in red and blue to indicate time periods. Text above the graph:]
- Searches for "eclipse" in the weeks before the eclipse are outpacing searches for "election" in the weeks before the 2016 election.
- Red line: Eclipse
- Blue line: Election
- Red x-axis labels: 2017 →|← July →|← August →
- Blue x-axis labels: 2016 - September →|← October →|←
- [Behind the top panel is a second larger panel slightly lower end more to the right. The visible part at the bottom of this panel is showing the same line graphs with the one from the election going past the election day. The x-axis labels ranges over a later time. The blue graph has a huge peak at the election day, visible in the part of the panel to the right of the top panel) and this date is written in a blue dot on the label. Similar the date of the Eclipse is written in a red dot. The red graph above the blue still ends in dots before the expected peak, as it is in the future.]
- Red line: Eclipse
- Blue line: Election
- Red x-axis labels: 2017 - July →|← August 21 →
- Blue x-axis labels: 2016 - October →|← November 8 →
- [Megan with her hands on the laptop and Cueball are both looking at the laptop. Beat panel.]
- [Cueball stands again and Megan has taken her hands down from the laptop.]
- Cueball: This is gonna be bad, isn't it?
- Megan: If you're planning to be on the road next Monday, bring water.
- This is the second reference to the Eclipse within a month, the first was in 1868: Eclipse Flights. The 2017 eclipse was mentioned as early as 2013 in the title text of 1302: Year in Review. And this years New Year comic 1779: 2017 also mentions it. Both comics joking in the title text that it may be canceled or not happening.
- It was the first time in about four months Randall made a reference about the presidential election from 2016, compared to several comics released withing the first half year after the election, with some kind of relation the the election.
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I don't get it. - BK 188.8.131.52 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Because people are apparently (according to the Google-search data, anyways) more excited about the upcoming eclipse than they were about the election, Cueball is predicting that society is going to go a little crazy when the eclipse actually happens. Megan adds that the traffic jams will likely be insurmountable and "if you're planning to be on the road, bring water"--i.e., don't expect to go anywhere fast. In the title text Mr. Munroe further explains this statement, noting that past eclipses have generated bad traffic jams and those were before the days of widespread social media networking, which will certainly make matters much worse. Berets (talk) 17:21, 14 August 2017 (UTC)
- To be fair, not that many of us were excited for election day. The Trumpists were excited. The #imwithheriguess weren't. We wanted Clinton because she wasn't Trump. Nervous about the insanity that would occur if Trump won, but not excited about the mediocrity that would happen if Clinton won. 184.108.40.206 21:43, 14 August 2017 (UTC)
- Don't forget the sizeable number of people who had the same opinions, but with the roles reversed (wanting Trump because he wasn't Hillary). Most of the people I know who wanted Trump were in that group. Mulan15262 (talk) 04:02, 15 August 2017 (UTC)
- I guess the association with traffic jams is that in the USofA, people are used to stand for hours in line to vote. --220.127.116.11 17:47, 14 August 2017 (UTC)
I remember the 1970 eclipse! Here in Northern Virginia, it was nearly total. I was nine and my dad made us a pinhole camera. Now I'm gonna have to make one for my kids, since it looks like the goggles are pretty much sold out. 18.104.22.168 19:08, 14 August 2017 (UTC)
I understand this XKCD differently. The fact that no one looks up "eclipse" is that something bad will happen during it, that's why Cueball is urged to bring water, as in essential survival gear. 22.214.171.124 20:12, 14 August 2017 (UTC) AM
- Yeah, and the Moon will fall into the Sun like the ISS did before: 1830: ISS Solar Transit 2 --Dgbrt (talk) 22:26, 14 August 2017 (UTC)
- Sounds more like 1868 (shouldn't that be linked in the explanation?) :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:29, 15 August 2017 (UTC)
- Not sure what you mean by “The fact that no one looks up "eclipse"” … the graph in the comic shows that loads of people are looking up "eclipse". 126.96.36.199 13:16, 16 August 2017 (UTC)
What's funny to me is that this growing interest is completely fictitious within the context of my experience, LOL! I have LITERALLY only heard about this eclipse on XKCD, if it were any other comic I would never even have the thought that an eclipse might really be coming. :) I've really seen and heard no mention anywhere else (all I can think right now is that this explanation talks about it crossing the States, maybe it'll be too south to see here in Canada, therefore nobody around here is interested?). It also mystifies me how this and 1868 (again, shouldn't it be linked here?) seem to be making a mountain out of a molehill. An eclipse isn't this weird, uncommon, unheard-of phenomenon, why the big deal???!?! NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:29, 15 August 2017 (UTC)
- Because Eclipses are awesome. Its like a good song on the radio it passes quickly but sticks with you for days (or weeks) 188.8.131.52 07:29, 15 August 2017 (UTC)
- Good songs on radio? I heard about these, but I doubt such mystical thing exists. As for the eclipse: I guess I'll watch the live stream. Or sleep. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 07:45, 15 August 2017 (UTC)
- Yes, eclipses are not too uncommon, but you still have to be lucky to experience one first hand. "Watching a live stream" of an eclipse is like watching porn: Both can be entertaining, but it's nothing like the real thing. LordHorst (talk) 08:52, 15 August 2017 (UTC)
- I've heard talk about it outside of XKCD, but I live and work in the 90% band so I think that you are correct about the local variation in how much people care.184.108.40.206 14:04, 15 August 2017 (UTC)
- This eclipse will have a nearly 70 mile wide path of totality cross the entire continental US. The next major eclipse in the US will be in 2024, but it will cross from Mexico through the Great Lakes and New England. 220.127.116.11 17:44, 15 August 2017 (UTC)
- I have seen two total eclipses and I am really sad I could not fit it into my plans to be in the totality band in the US this Monday. There is no reason to watch it live streamed, you could see one of the old any time you like. It has nothing on a real Eclipse. There is no doubt in my mind that experiencing those two total eclipses are the most crazy and beautiful nature experiences I have ever had. The one you are going to see this Monday is part of a long series. Each series of eclipses reappear every 18 years 1/3 around the globe to the west. So this eclipse is the next in the series of the first I saw in Europe (I was in Hungary) in August 1999. And the one mentioned in 2024 was the one I say in 2006 in Turkey. I live in Denmark so I had to travel further for those two than most of the people in the US has to, and they even can travel domestic. Go there and have an experience of a life time. And hope that Trump do not cancel the Eclipse... See title text of both 1302: Year in Review and 1779: 2017... Enjoy it you lucky people living right next to the totality! ;-) --Kynde (talk) 07:25, 16 August 2017 (UTC)
- This is the first total eclipse visible in the continental US since 1979. About half the current US population wasn't even born then. That totality was visible in a much smaller and mostly sparsely-populated part of the US. The last eclipse with totality visible near a significant percentage of the US population was in 1970. It's a pretty safe bet that >80% of the US population has never seen a total eclipse in person. So, while perhaps eclipses are an ordinary event for Canadians, the 2017 eclipse is indeed a "weird, uncommon, unheard-of phenomenon".18.104.22.168 18:17, 16 August 2017 (UTC)
- My reaction is more along the lines of the next xkcd, that it isn't mysterious or once-in-a-lifetime (except perhaps being located conveniently to see the full effects). Though come to think of it, I might never have seen an eclipse myself, or if so YEARS ago when I was young (you referenced one in 1979, maybe I saw that one). I actually wonder if it's like tornados, that we simply don't see them this far north? Really, it's just that it seems like I'm hearing a bigger deal here than makes sense. Cool experience if you can get it, but that's it. :) "Weird", no, completely normal and expected. Hell, this discussion only can exist because it's predicted. "Uncommon", certainly not. A Google search I did just now to try to see if there were any I might have seen led to a page about eclipses visible in Canada in the 20th century, which says there were something like 270. That's approaching an average of 3 per year, just from Canada, while this one seems like it won't even partially be visible to my area. "Unheard Of", definitely not. It would take an incredibly sheltered life to have not heard of eclipses, to know what they are. Sheltered with irresponsible parents. So I stand by that statement. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:32, 18 August 2017 (UTC)
Eclipse may cause greatest traffic jam in Oregon history. A million out-of-state travelers expected to pack Missouri roads for solar eclipse. Solar eclipse 2017: How to drive during Aug. 21 eclipse. North Georgia towns brace for huge crowds for eclipse. There has been a lot of online activity related to the eclipse in the past few weeks. Amdir (talk) 21:38, 16 August 2017 (UTC)
It is unlikely that the volume of Google searches will reach the same ultimate height as election searches do in the second graph. After all, the result is a forgone conclusion. Right? These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 01:54, 20 August 2017 (UTC)
Are there any usefully updated trackers of the search/in comparison to the election search? The linked WaPo article doesn't seem to include it.
- I wanted to verify the data myself, so I compared them in Google Trends. Here's a comparison between the 2 terms, similar to the one in the comic. Google Trends: Eclipse vs Election Saibot84 14:48, 23 August 2017 (UTC)
- Well fuck, looks like Randall's predictions really did pan out. Election hype was BURIED under eclipse hype. Aepokk (talk) 08:09, 24 August 2017 (UTC)
- Actually, that's not really the case at all. I don't know what Saibot84 was doing. Just some random derp 02:03, 15 September 2017 (UTC)
Can somebody add whether these predictions actually happened? RamenChef (talk) 19:04, 5 December 2017 (UTC)