Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One's Looking by Christian Rudder/Reflections

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My son is a trendspotter, a quiet strategist, a Child of the Social Media World. I knew I had to buy him a copy of Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One's Looking, Christian Rudder's new book, as soon as I started reading about it two months ago.

Rudder is one of the founders of the online dating site OKCupid—a Harvard grad with a popular blog. He has access to massive personal data and he has insights about (and now I am jacket copy quoting): "... 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...."

You get the point. Innately interesting stuff.

The book now in hand and my son briefly at home, I've proven myself an Indian giver—bandying the book about, reading interesting bits out loud, and saying, "Wait until you read this chapter," while the poor guy sits there, waiting to read that chapter. Rudder isn't just smart, insightful, and data-possessed. He proves himself to be a charming, engaging writer, even as he fills his book with red and black scattergrams, word charts, and x/y axes. He's not brash, he's not impressed with himself, he would never himself submit to online dating. He's just curious. And he has the facts.

Haters above all else confuse me; I see little point in spending one's time engaged in ruthless take downs, unprompted negativity, public/private screeds, and all those other e-facilitated things (which is one of the reasons I will never Google my own name or check my Amazon stats; life is too short to worry through the unkindness of strangers). I'd much rather listen to someone who has something to say or who has created something dazzling than to someone merely blessed with the right cheekbones. I don't feel a personal need to be "hot"—below the radar suits me just fine (just ask Kelly Simmons and Donna Galanti, who have the distinctly unpleasant task of planning a self-promotion panel with me at the upcoming Push to Publish conference; they have had to politely encourage me to stay on task more than once, bless them, these dear and task-appropriate souls).  Nonetheless, I'm fascinated by Rudder's facts—and by his musings. I find them distinctly relevant and helpful. Here he is, for example, reflecting on "the data generated from outrage.":

It embodies (and therefore lets us study) the contradictions inherent in us all. It shows we fight against those who can least fight back. And, above all, it runs to ground our age-old desire to raise ourselves up by putting other people down. Scientists have established that the drive is as old as time, but that doesn't mean they understand it yet. As Gandhi put it, "It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow beings."


Katrina said...

Heard him interviewed the other day on NPR and found him very engaging and smart. Now, on your recommendation, I will get the book, too -- and I imagine I'll be doing the same thing, giving it to Henry, but not without dipping in first myself.

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