Dataclysm

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder covered so many psychological topics, I do not think I will be able to do it justice in my quick discussion of it here.

Mr Rudder approaches the individual through viewing the population from which the individual is a part of. This will not characterize each individual exactly, but it does provide interesting insight into how we think, behave, and act despite our conscious and unconscious attempts to act, behave, or think differently than we do. If that confuses you, this book explains that concept much better than I just did.

Here are some interesting things I pulled from it:

  • The people who avoid the middle of the road get more responses. “So at the end of it, given that everyone on Earth has some kind of flaw, the real moral here is: be yourself and be brave about it. Certainly trying to fit in, just for its own sake, is counterproductive.” p80-81
  • On the Internet, templates work. Copy and paste mass messages get responses – on dating sites and elsewhere. The author makes the accurate metaphor of how so much of what is on his desk was made in a factory along with many copies.
  • Mr Rudder explores how as a society “our schema is still out of step with how most of us know the world should be.” He is looking at an immense dataset of people’s actions on OkCupid.com and notes “By hundred of small, everyday actions, none of them made with racist intent or feeling, we reflect a broader culture that is, in fact, racist.” This pattern “is so woven-in that relatively recent additions to our society, Asians and Latinos, have adopted it, too. When it comes to these patterns, the individuals are, in a way, blameless. That black people get three-quarters the affection on dating sites is practically an accident.” This section is very insightful and worth a re-read (p177-179)
  • I was struck by his descriptions of 3 stories where modern social media both brought fame to people who otherwise would never have their words known to such reaches and also ruthlessly attacked by the same mechanisms. He discusses how the Internet rose up against these people and the similarities. He jumps into the concepts of an individual potentially having a huge audience, or potentially being attacked by mod outrage. The fact that Twitter users “have exchanged more words than have ever been printed” despite the limitation on post length! So many ideas that he weaves seamlessly together into a fascinating narrative on today’s technology and sociology.
  • Mr Rudder brings up Zipf’s law which he describes “a wide variety of our social constructs: the sizes of cities, for example, and income distribution across a population.” What he uses it for is using words in user profiles to see both what words they identify with and more interestingly which words they do not identify with. p263
  • Through using users’ own words in their profile descriptions, he notes, “a few broad trends: white people differentiate themselves mostly by their hair and eyes, Asians by their country of origin, Latinos by their music.” p269

I realize now how poorly I am describing this book. It covers so many topics, so much depth, do my data … wow. I will be re-reading this book again as well.

Also, maybe more importantly, I will be more mindful of my everyday actions both online and offline.