As much as I am a full-fledged participant in the digital world, there are two remnants of the 20th century that I am holding fast to: writing appointments in a paper planner and taking out physical library books. I was excited to see that Christian Rudder's book "Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)" came available at my local library. Rudder is one of the founders of the clever "free" online dating site OKCupid which has been at times controversial with their psychological experimentation on user behavior and also attractiveness ratings. That said, it was clear to me that by collecting user data since 2004, Rudder has a unique vantage point in the conversation on data, and luckily for us he shares some of his findings. Rudder's OKTrends blog is fascinating; it provides an inside snapshot on key elements of human dating behavior, which arguably (with all of the biases and insecurities out there) shows people at their honest-to-goodness worst.
A social scientist at heart, I would LOVE to get my hands on these datasets. Oh the charts I would pull. Thus, I recommend "Dataclysm" because it is data voyeurism at its best - Rudder includes raw charts on items controversial and imaginative from ageism in dating to what makes racial profiles unique. He uses multiple data sources not just from OKCupid. And he's extremely smart. He fully concedes that charting data is subjective and human; the choices we make in pulling data and explaining it fully influences the outcome. He presents and defends his choices (i.e which filters to use and why), but also makes his work salient to an intelligent audience without being burdensome.
I learned a lot from Rudder's analyses. For example, he shows that Twitter messages while brief are not reductive in the quality of discourse, a fact that I held in my gut as the service has proven quite valuable to me. He also remarks how fewer points of data are becoming highly predictive as our data sets grow; an important thing to note as a virulent few refuse to "share" information as privacy concerns are at an all-time high. In fact, they don't have to share much to be understood anyways. And he makes a good point that the exchange of personal information can be small versus the gain of free services such as LinkedIn that can improve our lives in positive ways. But this isn't an essay on internet privacy concerns.
What impressed me the most by "Dataclysm" is Rudder's facility with multiple data sources - that alone can be educational to those grappling with the new digital world. He is truly modern and engaged. Rudder reminds me that I can use Google Trends to track the rise of certain keywords and correlate searchable terms. While limited, there are free data sets out there for our review and analysis. Recognizing so is both inspirational and exciting. It is our world; let us dig deep.