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The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY CHRISTO­PHER INGRAHAM christo­pher.ingraham@wash­post.com

Proof! The path of the so­lar eclipse is al­ter­ing on­line be­hav­ior on Earth.

The up­com­ing so­lar eclipse is poised to be­come the “most pho­tographed, most shared, most tweeted event in hu­man his­tory,” in the words of one as­tronomer. Mil­lions of peo­ple will watch it, po­ten­tially over­whelm­ing some ci­ties and towns along the eclipse’s “path of to­tal­ity.”

Ac­cord­ing to Google, in­ter­est in the eclipse — which will oc­cur Aug. 21 — has ex­ploded na­tion­wide in the past few months, mir­ror­ing national me­dia at­ten­tion. The county-level search data, pro­vided by Google, paints a strik­ing pic­ture: In­ter­est in the eclipse is con­cen­trated in the path of to­tal­ity that cuts through the mid­dle of the coun­try, and at­ten­tion re­cedes sharply the far­ther you go from that path.

The searches are an un­canny vir­tual re­flec­tion of the eclipse it­self. Ex­perts say the dif­fer­ence be­tween a to­tal eclipse (view­able only in the path of to­tal­ity) and a par­tial one (ev­ery­where else) is quite lit­er­ally the dif­fer­ence be­tween night and day. Web users in coun­ties within the path of the to­tal­ity are look­ing up in­for­ma­tion on the eclipse five to 10 times more of­ten than those well out­side, ac­cord­ing to Google’s data.

Re­cently, in­ter­est was high­est in ru­ral Clark A path of cu­rios­ity Google search in­ter­est in the eclipse, July 25-Aug. 1 County, Idaho, which lies di­rectly in the eclipse’s path. Nearby Idaho Falls plans to hold a four-day out­door coun­try music fes­ti­val it’s call­ing Moon­fest.

Ne­braska’s Pawnee and Ban­ner coun­ties, sit­u­ated at op­po­site ends of the state, show the next-high­est in­ter­est. Ban­ner County lies just out­side the path of to­tal­ity, while Pawnee is di­rectly within it.

Round­ing out the top five coun­ties are Rabun and Towns coun­ties in north­east Ge­or­gia, both squarely within the eclipse’s path.

Peo­ple search­ing the Web for the event are mostly look­ing up ba­sic facts — a map of the eclipse’s path, its ex­act time, and in­for­ma­tion on the spe­cial glasses you’ll need to avoid burn­ing your eye­balls while look­ing at it.

The phys­i­cal world as­serts it­self in our vir­tual lives in myr­iad ways. Searches for sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der fol­low a north-south gra­di­ent, for in­stance, and you can use Google searches to track ev­ery­thing from flu sea­son to mos­quito hatch­ings.

The eclipse searches are per­haps the most strik­ing ex­am­ple of this phe­nom­e­non yet, as mil­lions of Amer­i­cans along an in­vis­i­ble ce­les­tial path tap their key­boards to­gether, un­known to one another.

ROB STOTHARD/GETTY IMAGES

Stu­dents from a school in Eng­land pose with pro­tec­tive glasses be­fore view­ing a near-to­tal so­lar eclipse at the Royal Ob­ser­va­tory in Lon­don in 2015.

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