Who We Are When We Think No One's Looking

Book - 2014
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Provocative, illuminating, and visually arresting,  Dataclysm  is a portrait of how big data reveals our essential selves--and a first look at a revolution in the making.
   What is the secret to a stable marriage? How many gay people are still in the closet? Do we truly live in a postracial society? Has Twitter made us dumber? These are just a few of the questions Christian Rudder answers in  Dataclysm,  a smart, funny, irreverent look at how we act when we think no one's looking.
   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 can quantify the formerly unquantifiable and show with unprecedented precision how we fight, how we age, how we love, and how we change. Our personal data has been used to spy on us, hire and fire us, and sell us stuff we don't need. In Dataclysm,  Rudder uses it to show us who we are as people. 
   He reveals how Facebook "likes" can predict, with surprising accuracy, a person's sexual orientation and even intelligence; how attractive women receive exponentially more job interview requests; and why you have to 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 tracks human migration in real 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.
Publisher: Toronto :, Random House Canada,, 2014
ISBN: 9780345812582
Branch Call Number: 303.483 RUD NVD
Characteristics: 300 pages : illsutrations (some colour), maps (some colour) ; 25 cm


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Sep 25, 2017

Due to the nature of its data (OKCupid mostly), this book presents highly misogynistic perceptions on men and women. This data is extrapolated beyond dating and the commentary is similarly gendered. That being said, I couldn't stop reading it because while gendered, it is still representative of the society we live in. Think you could likely say many of the same things about race in this book. The graphics are great and the interpretation is good, but leave it to a white man to write a book about "all of us."

ArapahoeStaff20 Feb 01, 2017

Taken at face value, I really liked this book. The author never pretends to be an authority, but uses his data sets (mostly mined from his own OK Cupid site) to offer an overview of who people are underneath the pretense. The data revealed our biases and offered its own stereotypes of people. I should have read this BEFORE taking college statistics. It would have made my classes much more enjoyable!

Dec 21, 2016

What are the most common keywords people of different races use to describe themselves or their ideal partner? On average, how old are the men 35-year-old women find most attractive, and vice versa? What style of introductory messages garner the highest response-rate? Christian Rudder, one of the founders of the online matchmaking website OKCupid, crunches all kinds of anonymous user data in this fascinating book, providing thought-provoking glimpses into who we really are.

Jan 03, 2016

The author, Christian Rudder, has great panache for the written word that would take me a decade or more of practice to even come close to emulating. Here he prefers a dense prose, but his tone dances with rhythmic confidence. It's youthfully hip in spite of the author's middle-age. Here's a rare case where I'm happy to enjoy the style, never mind the substance.

As for Dataclysm, his findings are fascinating but it doesn't hurt to have an above-average love for statistics just to wade through it all. For my part, I suspect a shorter essay would have worked just as well.

Jun 29, 2015

It was a fascinating and approachable read! Never did I think that so much data in a book would not make my head hurt. Rudder uses data from Ok Cupid (where he works) to explain what our data says about each of us.

Feb 12, 2015

I read this book in one sitting after it was close to being due. Sobering, fascinating, and a little bit depressing.

Author is one of the co-founders of OKCupid. He takes data from that site, as well as Facebook, Google, etc. to show how we as Americans really are in our personal lives. In the past, sociologists used surveys, which suffered from small sample sizes and also respondents lying (ex. no one will truthfully answer that he hates blacks). Social media allows billions of data to be collected and no one lies (actions not words).

Basic conclusions from the book are, we as Americans are profoundly racist (but maybe for legitimate reasons), and women peak in sexual desirability at 22-years and rapidly fall off a cliff (a 35-year old woman is almost invisible to men online). Other more nuanced and equally absorbing conclusions in the book.

I was also very disturbed by how we are giving up our most intimate details online through these ubiquitous sites and services. It is certainly the golden age of Big Brother, Orwell and Huxley would be spinning in their graves.

Nov 26, 2014

Think about how far we've come. In the third century BC, the first great repository of human knowledge was the Library of Alexandria. Today information is available in the exabytes. (What is an exabyte?'s really, really big.) Big data is about size, but it's more than that. It's the fact that we have computers and databases that will log and analyze micro-activities, actions as simple as Facebook "likes," our location recorded by the GPS in our phones, and the "number of seconds or minutes spent reading a web page."

Dataclysm Who We Are When We Think No One's Looking by Christian Rudder sheds light on what that kind of datafication looks like. Rudder himself is the cofounder of OkCupid, the online dating site, which lives and breathes on seemingly mystical algorithms that dice and chop up streams of data. No other person might be more qualified to give us an insider's account on what big data can do.

Rudder dabbles in statistical, psychological, and sociological theories and drills the chapters with clever infographics and beautifully rendered scatterplots—and some of them are truly works of art. (I used to work in data so I have a soft spot for data scientists and their work.) But where Rudder really excels is in the smorgasbord of findings. Patterns emerge from the data. Stare into the matrix and you'll see...a mirror into your very soul. At least that's what Rudder wants us to believe.

The heart of what makes big data interesting is that it's research that isn't gathered merely from surveys or interviews or even randomized control trial experiments, which we all know can be biased for a variety of reasons: subjects don't understand the questions, subjects lie, people obfuscate, they unconsciously modify their behavior to please researchers. Here the data is based on actual behavior in situ. And we can learn something from it, we can see patterns and discern behaviors that were otherwise invisible. It's like studying people in the wild.

Most books about data are dry and boring, but Dataclysm is one that makes a mark. Part of this is Rudder staying grounded in primary data and real analysis. But an even bigger part is Rudder's never-stale writing style. Yes, the book is still pop-social science. This might frustrate a few bona fide data scientists out there. But Dataclysm works. The amusing stories and asides sprinkled throughout the book are full of zest but are never fluffy. For a numbers person, a Harvard-honed math-y guy working in Silicon Valley, Dataclysm is a remarkably fluid and readable book.

Nov 24, 2014

A bit disappointed. I knew the author was the guy behind OkTrends, and so I expected him to use lots of information from OkCupid, but I thought there would be a bit more to it - other data sources.

He does indeed reach out to other places (e.g. Facebook, Google Search, Twitter...), but it feels less in-depth than what he gets from OkCupid.

Nothing wrong with relying on OkCupid a lot, since there is lots of valuable information there, but... it feels like it's a bit limited on that sense.

Anyway, it's a short read and some of the graphics and conclusions are really interesting and fun, so I wouldn't advice against it. If someone is very interested in this topic, it's probably worth to take a look into it - just don't expect to be mind blown

hgeng63 Nov 01, 2014

Underwhelming. Nicely designed typefaces & graphics, though.


Add a Summary
Apr 08, 2016

Rudder founded a matchmaking web site. When it was successful, with many clients, he looked at the statistics as a sociologist. He studied at a macro level: what sorts of people are likely to look at what sorts of profiles. The results of his study avoid the WIERD problem plaguing most university research, where most subjects in studies are Western, Educated, and from Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic countries. Rudder’s subjects were not WIERD. And the study was not a questionnaire, with subjects answering untruthfully: Rudder knew what the subjects actually did on the website.

This book is fascinating reading if you are interested in the motivation driving human behaviour. But if you are interested in the mechanics of analyzing big data, then you will not find much help here.

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