Monday, September 08, 2014

Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

Christian Rudder defines Dataclysm as "An unprecedented deluge of digital information reshaping our view of the world". The cofounder and president of OKCupid, has gathered data from that site and other sites, analyzed it, and compiled it into a fascinating book that examines what we share on social media. The result is  Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One's Looking.

In my workplace, we talk about the fact that people tell us one thing, but their actions say something different. In fact, we're in the process of using a service similar to what stores use to actually examine the actions and behavior of our customers. So, Rudder's book showing analytics that actually tell what is happening, rather than surveying people to see what they say, is intriguing and right in line with what we're doing. Rudder uses all his data to tell "the human story", how people behave on sites such as OKCupid and Twitter when they think no one is watching.

Before social media, universities studied their students, which slanted the results. Rudder says it even has a name, WEIRD research: white, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. Hardly a good judge of society. But, Rudder claims all of our networks present a better picture of society. He examines his own site to look at how people behave when it comes to sex. Rudder examines beauty and race in the book. The chapter "Days of Rage" and the mob reaction on Twitter to some comments was an intriguing chapter. There's discussion of government use of data, as well as the use merchants, banks, and social media makes of it.

But, Rudder is an optimist, one who hopes data will ultimately be used for good, as a way to discover what we have in common as humans, as well as a way to reach us as individuals. It's this optimism, coupled with the research and data, that makes Dataclysm a fascinating book. His book ends with a wish, a hope for the future of social media data. "To use data to know yet not manipulate, to explore but not to pry, to protect and not to smother, to see yet never expose, and, above all, to repay that priceless gift we bequeath to the world when we share our lives so that other lives might be better - and to fulfill for everyone that oldest of human hopes, from Gilgamesh to Ramses to today: that our names be remembered, not only in stone but as part of memory itself."

Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One's Looking by Christian Rudder. Crown Publishers. 2014. ISBN 9780385347372 (hardcover), 272p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received an ARC from the publisher, with no promises of a review.

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