Contented Reader

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by Christian Rudderdataclysm

Crown Publishing, 2014

When I checked this book out at the library, I was expecting a completely different book.  I like the one I got a lot better.

I thought I was borrowing a book about the dangers of ‘big data.’  Watch out!  Web sites are collecting your personal data and selling information to companies and governments!  There’s nothing you can do, and the consequences are dire, dire, dire!  I already know that, and, like most Americans, have decided to accept the dire consequences as a reasonable trade for being able to have instant access to my second-cousins’ political conspiracy theories.  If I hadn’t given in to Big Data years ago, I probably would have no idea whatsoever that President Obama has already constructed the concentration camps in which Christians and Republicans will be incarcerated after he refuses to give up the presidency in 2017 (or so my distant relative once claimed on Facebook).  Information like that is well worth giving Amazon full access to all of my hopes and dreams.  That’s the book I thought I was borrowing.  I wasn’t that excited about it – in fact, it was with a certain reluctance that I took it off the shelf – but I wanted to give it a chance, because it was recommended by someone whose opinions I respect.

This was a completely different book than that.

Christian Rudder works for OKCupid, which means that he has access to massive amounts of data about people’s lives.  In the course of looking for a date, people post their pictures and tell something pretty close to the truth about themselves.  Rudder also has access to the other data – what people actually do on OKCupid, and how it does or doesn’t correlate with what they say is true about themselves.

This book is an exploration of the some of the data that the internet has gathered, and what we can learn from it.  Rudder doesn’t judge the existence of the data.  He’s doing something different: he’s using it to describe who we are.  Would it surprise you to learn that, although most men say that they’re interested in dating someone around their own age, most men of all ages are really trying to get with a 20-year-old?

No, that didn’t surprise me, either.  It also didn’t surprise me that Belle and Sebastian is the Whitest Band on Earth, or that a lot of people who claim not to be racists don’t really like black people very much.  I was fascinated by the way Rudder uses Google data to make what seems like a very reasonable guess about the percentage of the population that is gay (that’s a number that’s really hard to pin down, I know), and the ways American attitudes about race adjusted when President Obama took office.

His writing style was really several notches above most of the pop-nonfiction books I read, too.  I admit that I must be an elitist, because I wasn’t expecting a math/computer guy to be such a good writer.

I would read this again.


Written by Contented Reader

June 24, 2015 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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