I groped in the darkness for the meaning of 2006, until it occurred to me to seek the light where it resides for so many of us these days...

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I groped in the darkness for the meaning of 2006, until it occurred to me to seek the light where it resides for so many of us these days. I consulted Google.

The No. 1 news search term on Google this year has been Paris Hilton. Orlando Bloom was second. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan made the list.

But even Paris Hilton wasn’t the most important thing on people’s minds this year, just the most frequent news search. The top search overall was Bebo, as in bebo.com, the social-networking site, and MySpace was second (www.google.com/intl/en/press/zeitgeist2006.html).

Maybe 2006 will be seen as the year of social connection, though it sometimes seems more like a game of social collection to me. My teenage son periodically announces some new threshold in the number of friends on his MySpace with the glee of a batter who’s just hit a home run.

But he’s also serious about staying in touch with a core of good friends. Who knows where social-networking sites will lead?

Each year ends with more questions than answers.

Can we make sense of a year when a year is such a small bit of time in a chaotic mess of pieces waiting to be fitted into a larger puzzle?

It seemed like a murderous year in Seattle, but this year the city has had fewer than half the homicides it had in 1994, the highest in recent years. Perceptions are easily shaped by extraordinary events, and in this case it was killings that happened as part of unexpected bursts of violence.

Proximity in time and distance also distorts. Are you still thinking about the 200,000 people killed by a tsunami in 2004? Just two years ago it really mattered.

Who knows what trend or event will follow us into the future?

In February, the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl for the first time. This fall they fell far from grace. You just never know.

Barack Obama, the freshman senator from Illinois, has been riding high this year, surfing on the hopes of people who embrace his potential, in part because they are just so tired of what is. Will he keep himself aloft?

Most of the country came around to the view that our presence in Iraq is not helpful.

Iraq has hung heavily over the story that each of the past few years have had to tell, but even growing opposition to the war this year doesn’t guarantee a reasonably quick or minimally damaging exit.

And how will we rescue our image abroad and repair our relationships with other countries? How will we pay the bills that the war and tax cuts continue to pile up?

This year, gasoline prices soared and the dollar fell. My family took a car trip through the Canadian Rockies this summer and felt the bite of both those phenomena. I keep wondering what will it mean to be an American by the time my son grows up.

In Canada we saw the signs of glacial retreat and felt the threat of global warming. This could have been the year we got serious about the environment, but it wasn’t.

Well, lots of people did go to see “An Inconvenient Truth,” but I don’t know whether it got a screening at the White House.

Weather’s been odd around here lately. There was record rain and flooding in November, and it’s a sure bet most of us will remember this month’s windstorm for a long time.

Lots of people spoke their minds this year. Mel Gibson and Michael Richards made headlines doing it because they are celebrities. Each of them provided a warning that a person ought to work on cleaning up his thoughts, since you never know when one of them will spill out in public.

Sometimes it’s actions that show what people are thinking deep down. We all say education is fundamental, but in Seattle our schools are suffering from an incomplete match of words and actions.

We say all children can learn and that we care about all of them, but our schools don’t reflect that. It’s a problem around the country, but we have a better chance of solving it than most cities, if we but had the will to do so.

Having the will is the most important factor in any effort to make the world better, but having money helps.

This was also the year Bill Gates announced his intention to turn to philanthropy full-time. It was the year the world’s second-richest man, Warren Buffett, pledged most of his billions to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

They don’t get Googled or ogled as much as Paris, but they represent the better part of any legacy 2006 may leave. I look forward to looking back at what their efforts have started.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

His column runs Thursdays and Sundays and is found at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.