Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, can these social media engines really tell us something significant about race, dating, and sexuality? In his new book, Dataclysm, OkCupid founder Christian Rudder sets aside the notion that only larger polls such as the Gallup Poll can adequately express cultural and social data. Instead, Christian looks at social media outlets like Facebook, that run the gamut from rich to poor, black to Asian. He writes, “More than 1 out of every 3 Americans access Facebook every day. The site has 1.3 billion accounts worldwide. Given that roughly a quarter of the world is under age fourteen, that means that something like 25 percent of adults on Earth have a Facebook account (20).” If this proliferation of Facebook usage accounts for much of what our culture deems acceptable and noteworthy, then Christian is right, we better take a closer look at the data.
One of my favorite parts of the book comes in the chapter entitled Writing on the Wall. Rudder examines some recent studies on linguistics, especially the connection between word length in Hamlet and Wodehouse compared to one’s Twitter account. One of the things that came out of these studies was that, “Twitter does not change how a person writes. Among the many examples tracked, if a writer uses “u” for the second person in e-mails or text messages, she will also use it on Twitter (61).” The old adage that people who use Twitter to write in concise phrases down dumb the English language might not be so true. Later on, he writes, “The best messages, the ones that get the highest response rate, are now only 40 to 60 characters long (66).” The length of a Twitter comment or message doesn’t necessarily mean that a quick response is guaranteed nor does it guarantee grammatical accuracy.
Although I really enjoyed this book, I think some of the ways Rudder interprets the data are a bit overreaching. Take for example, Rudder writes, “What’s more, that 1 in 20 ratios is consistent from state to state, meaning that same-sex desire is unaffected by a man’s political and religious milieu (176).” Now, I get the point that he is making, namely that external factors should not weigh into the discussion concerning same-sex attraction. But making this point about external factors also does not point to internal factors that could have a facto to play in the discussion, beyond just a genetic thing. Namely, family life relationships, mental and emotional struggles, all these internal things also play a part in the debate about same-sex attraction.
I really enjoyed the book and am glad that someone as bright as Christian Rudder is taking the social media we all use every day and putting it to use statistically.
Thanks to Blogging for Books and Crown Publishers for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.