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Dataclysm
Cover of Dataclysm
Dataclysm
Love, Sex, Race, and Identity—What Our Online Lives Tell Us about Our OfflineSelves
A New York Times Bestseller

An audacious, irreverent investigation of human behavior--and a first look at a revolution in the making


Our personal data has been used to spy on us, hire and fire us, and sell us stuff we don't need. In Dataclysm, Christian Rudder uses it to show us who we truly are.

For centuries, we've relied on polling or small-scale lab experiments to study human behavior. Today, a new approach is possible. As we live more of our lives online, researchers can finally observe us directly, in vast numbers, and without filters. Data scientists have become the new demographers.

In this daring and original book, Rudder explains how Facebook "likes" can predict, with surprising accuracy, a person's sexual orientation and even intelligence; how attractive women receive exponentially more interview requests; and why you must have haters to be hot. He charts the rise and fall of America's most reviled word through Google Search and examines the new dynamics of collaborative rage on Twitter. He shows how people express themselves, both privately and publicly. What is the least Asian thing you can say? Do people bathe more in Vermont or New Jersey? What do black women think about Simon & Garfunkel? (Hint: they don't think about Simon & Garfunkel.) Rudder also traces human migration over time, showing how groups of people move from certain small towns to the same big cities across the globe. And he grapples with the challenge of maintaining privacy in a world where these explorations are possible.

Visually arresting and full of wit and insight, Dataclysm is a new way of seeing ourselves--a brilliant alchemy, in which math is made human and numbers become the narrative of our time.

From the Hardcover edition.
A New York Times Bestseller

An audacious, irreverent investigation of human behavior--and a first look at a revolution in the making


Our personal data has been used to spy on us, hire and fire us, and sell us stuff we don't need. In Dataclysm, Christian Rudder uses it to show us who we truly are.

For centuries, we've relied on polling or small-scale lab experiments to study human behavior. Today, a new approach is possible. As we live more of our lives online, researchers can finally observe us directly, in vast numbers, and without filters. Data scientists have become the new demographers.

In this daring and original book, Rudder explains how Facebook "likes" can predict, with surprising accuracy, a person's sexual orientation and even intelligence; how attractive women receive exponentially more interview requests; and why you must have haters to be hot. He charts the rise and fall of America's most reviled word through Google Search and examines the new dynamics of collaborative rage on Twitter. He shows how people express themselves, both privately and publicly. What is the least Asian thing you can say? Do people bathe more in Vermont or New Jersey? What do black women think about Simon & Garfunkel? (Hint: they don't think about Simon & Garfunkel.) Rudder also traces human migration over time, showing how groups of people move from certain small towns to the same big cities across the globe. And he grapples with the challenge of maintaining privacy in a world where these explorations are possible.

Visually arresting and full of wit and insight, Dataclysm is a new way of seeing ourselves--a brilliant alchemy, in which math is made human and numbers become the narrative of our time.

From the Hardcover edition.
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  • Chapter One

    Wooderson's Law

    Up where the world is steep, like in the Andes, people use funicular railroads to get where they need to go--­a pair of cable cars connected by a pulley far up the hill. The weight of the one car going down pulls the other up; the two vessels travel in counterbalance. I've learned that that's what being a parent is like. If the years bring me low, they raise my daughter, and, please, so be it. I surrender gladly to the passage, of course, especially as each new moment gone by is another I've lived with her, but that doesn't mean I don't miss the days when my hair was actually all brown and my skin free of weird spots. My girl is two and I can tell you that nothing makes the arc of time more clear than the creases in the back of your hand as it teaches plump little fingers to count: one, two, tee.

    But some guy having a baby and getting wrinkles is not news. You can start with whatever the Oil of Olay marketing department is running up the pole this week--­as I'm writing it's the idea of "color correcting" your face with a creamy beige paste that is either mud from the foothills of Alsace or the very essence of bullshit--­and work your way back to myths of Hera's jealous rage. People have been obsessed with getting older, and with getting uglier because of it, for as long as there've been people and obsession and ugliness. "Death and taxes" are our two eternals, right? And depending on the next government shutdown, the latter is looking less and less reliable. So there you go.

    When I was a teenager--­and it shocks me to realize I was closer then to my daughter's age than to my current thirty-­eight--­I was really into punk rock, especially pop-­punk. The bands were basically snottier and less proficient versions of Green Day. When I go back and listen to them now, the whole phenomenon seems supernatural to me: grown men brought together in trios and quartets by some unseen force to whine about girlfriends and what other people are eating. But at the time I thought these bands were the shit. And because they were too cool to have posters, I had to settle for arranging their album covers and flyers on my bedroom wall. My parents have long since moved--­twice, in fact. I'm pretty sure my old bedroom is now someone else's attic, and I have no idea where any of the paraphernalia I collected is. Or really what most of it even looked like. I can just remember it and smile, and wince.

    Today an eighteen-­year-­old tacks a picture on his wall, and that wall will never come down. Not only will his thirty-­eight-­year-­old self be able to go back, pick through the detritus, and ask, "What was I thinking?," so can the rest of us, and so can researchers. Moreover, they can do it for all people, not just one guy. And, more still, they can connect that eighteenth year to what came before and what's still to come, because the wall, covered in totems, follows him from that bedroom in his parents' house to his dorm room to his first apartment to his girlfriend's place to his honeymoon, and, yes, to his daughter's nursery. Where he will proceed to paper it over in a billion updates of her eating mush.

    A new parent is perhaps most sensitive to the milestones of getting older. It's almost all you talk about with other people, and you get actual metrics at the doctor's every few months. But the milestones keep coming long after babycenter .com and the pediatrician quit with the reminders. It's just that we stop keeping track. Computers, however, have nothing better to do; keeping track is their only job. They don't lose the scrapbook, or travel, or get drunk, or grow senile, or even blink. They just...

About the Author-
  • Christian Rudder is a co-founder and former president of the dating site OkCupid, where he authored the popular OkTrends blog. He graduated from Harvard in 1998 with a degree in math and later served as creative director for SparkNotes. He has appeared on Dateline NBC and NPR's "All Things Considered" and his work has been written about in the New York Times and the New Yorker, among other places. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2014
    Are you a racist? Plainer-looking than you might wish? Inclined to vote left? Big data knows-and it's talking. Big data is more than numbers; it's people. And it's from the way that people describe themselves that the manipulators of big data know how to sell them stuff, which would seem to be the object of the exercise. If you visit a dating website such as OkCupid-which Rudder founded after receiving a math degree at Harvard-and say of yourself, "loves to be outside," you're statistically unlikely to be anything other than a white woman; add "country girl," and the deal is sealed. The author looks at three big topics, often extrapolating from his own creation: "the data of people connecting," "the data of division" and the data concerning "the individual alone." What separates us is more interesting than what brings us together, and we're incredibly inventive at finding ways to divide ourselves: sex and gender, age, appearance, cultural background, religion, musical likes, food preferences and, most of all, race. It is on that last, thorny subject that Rudder's data becomes damningly meaningful: Americans are racist in ways that other nations are not, as measured simply by the exchange of flirtatious messages. The author is inclined to let the numbers speak for themselves without overlaying too much interpretation, though on race, he becomes impatient. We see things in aggregates and people as representatives of those aggregates, and "the patterns in the aggregate show that the dice, overall, are still loaded." Although he hopes for a democratization of data that might further a more civil society, Rudder allows that it's first-tier entities such as the National Security Agency and Facebook that are really in charge of the numbers, and it's not comforting to know that "what's being collected today is so deep it verges on bottomless." Demographers, entrepreneurs, students of history and sociology, and ordinary citizens alike will find plenty of provocations and, yes, much data in Rudder's well-argued, revealing pages.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2014
    Rudder plunders sites like Twitter, Facebook, and OKCupid (which he founded, along with the just relaunched OKTrends), ultimately drawing on a data set totaling 185 million people to answer detailed behavioral questions. Did you know that iPhone users have more sex?

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • New Scientist "Rudder draws from big data sets – Google searches, Twitter updates, illicitly obtained Facebook data passed shiftily between researchers like bags of weed – to draw out subtle patterns in politics, sexuality, identity and behaviour that are only revealed with distance and aggregation...Dataclysm will entertain those who want to know how machines see us. It also serves as a call to action, showing us how server farms running everything from home shopping to homeland security turn us into easily digested data products. Rudder's message is clear: in this particular sausage factory, we are the pigs."
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Dataclysm
Love, Sex, Race, and Identity—What Our Online Lives Tell Us about Our OfflineSelves
Christian Rudder
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