Dataclysm by Christian Rudder
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Reviews
This is a really clever and interesting book about data and what it can tell us about the world. It was a quick read even at 250 pages, had great charts (which makes sense, as at the end he shares that he used Edward Tufte’s visual displays as a guide, and Tufte’s displays are the best), and was interesting. The main reason I only gave it three stars is because as I’m writing this review a mere five hours after finishing it, I can’t really remember much of it.
Mr. Rudder cofounded OKCupid (the site where I met my husband, so sweet) and used to write blog posts about what he learned from the reams of data OKCupid collected. He taps into profile word choice, attractiveness rankings, number of messages received and a host of other data from this site to draw some high level conclusions that are genuinely of the “huh, that’s kind of interesting” variety.
And yet I don’t recall any of his big conclusions (although I did enjoy the section that showed by race and gender the least likely words to be found in profiles). I think this book probably would have worked much better as just a series of blog posts on different topic areas; I’m just not convinced that there is enough of a coherent theme for it to hold together strongly as a book. And yet I’d still recommend it to anyone who likes data, sociology and anthropology.
One chapter I do recall focuses on social media and specifically how users can attack others. But instead of focusing on women like Anita Sarkeesian or women of color who get attacked online just for existing, he chose three examples of women who made varying levels of not-funny jokes. One was Justine Sacco, who made a supremely unfunny and racist joke about AIDS, Africa, and her whiteness. Look, I’m sure that many of the people who jumped on that bandwagon were full of faux outraged, but Mr. Rudder refused to acknowledge that one reason that led to that reaction is because the butts of such jokes (in this case, Black people), have the ability to fight back and be heard in a way they didn’t have before. So it wasn’t just the internet being mean to Ms. Sacco, it was Ms. Sacco having to actually deal with the pain she caused other by telling a racist joke. This is one of the only times that really stuck out to me as Mr. Rudder completely missing the point, though, so I guess that’s a good thing.