Dataclysm

Dataclysm Book Cover Dataclysm
Christian Rudder
Computers
Crown Pub
2014-09-09
304

An irreverent analysis of what our online lives reveal about who we really are draws on information from major online sources, from Twitter and Facebook to Reddit and OkCupid, to explain how the science of human behavior is dramatically evolving. 125,000 first printing.

 

Review:

The copy I am reviewing was received through Netgalley from Crown publishing in exchange for an honest review.

In “Dataclysm”, Christian Rudder embarks on the mission to bring Big Data to the masses. Big History and Big Economics are popular today, and I think this book is going to achieve the mission with great success.

Math is not known for being embraced by many, so Rudder’s work was cut out for him.  His subject choices and examples were well-chosen and interesting, and concepts are explained in a way not “dumbed down” too much, but easily understood by anyone wishing to put the effort into learning about them.  At a few points it became a bit too dense with information, and that is why I give the book four stars instead of five.  I wish four and a half were an option, because while it keeps it from having the ability to capture the attention of any reader who may pick it up, I believe that the author is respecting those who want to truly gain knowledge, thereby making the density not a necessarily bad thing.

The facts and writing were both funny and horrifying.  One minute I would be laughing at the idea that Belle and Sebastian are the whitest band in America, and the next I was completely uncomfortable with the racism that is inherent in the population as a whole.  It’s easy to say “I am not racist”, but quite different when the patterns of a large group are put on display and analyzed and you recognize your own behaviors in there.  It’s food for thought, and something most of us are not even conscious that occurs, so the hope that we can now see it on display and work to make changes in our thoughts is a very real one.

The most unsettling question raised is whether or not the social gains are worth the privacy we are sacrificing.  Since it’s a new field, it’s up to the people to set standards, so learning about it is more than educational or entertaining.  Without knowing what is going on, we cannot object or consciously aid in what it’s used for.

Also, please be sure to read the author’s notes at the end.  He does an excellent job of explaining where and how he got the data, as well as the approaches and controls he used in his research.  It’s fascinating and adds the legitimacy numbers often require.

If you enjoy facts, data, charts and graphs (the ones in “Dataclysm” are excellent), or are inquisitive in any way I recommend you give this a try.  The first couple of chapters may feel a bit overwhelming, but eventually the read becomes easier, and it is well worth the time.

 

Content Warning:

This isn’t a book for kids, nor is it marketed as such, though teenagers may enjoy it.  There are some words some may find objectionable, and the usage of data from a dating site does make sex a topic that frequently comes up.

 

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