December 7, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Who's watching you when you surf the internet? Anne Petzold explores in Dataclysm, Christian Rudder's new book

Dataclysm who we areAs CEO of OKCupid, one of the biggest dating websites worldwide, Christian Rudder is in possession of some BIG data. To fill the data pool to the brim, he also gathered a deluge of data from Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other social networks.

“Data”, in the context of social media sites, captures how long we are lingering on a particular picture and whether we do or don’t click a particular link, but also how we explicitly rate a particular content – whether we “like” it, in the relatively anonymous context of online sites.

Online behaviour is less inhibited by convention than the behavior we observe in experiments or polls: for instance, imagine we asked someone on the street to rate another person’s sex appeal, or whether they would consider themselves racist. We’re unlikely to get an uncensored, honest answer. Being able to observe on a large scale what people actually like and do instead of asking them what they would like and do allows unique and deep insights into “who we are – when we think nobody is looking”, the subheading of this book.

Dataclysm‘ is one of the first works out there that transparently analyses big social data in a hilarious, yet thoughtful manner for the public – who are the actual perhaps unwitting participants in this big social experiment.

Check out women’s age-preferences that are diametrically different from men’s, while our attractive attributes are surprisingly similar. Find out why “tall for an Asian” is the top of sexy, why a decisive “beh” is more attractive than a thousand “mehs”, and what your Facebook network indicates about your relationship status. Think about some hidden racial biases that surface in the attractiveness ratings on OKCupid.

On a side note, the hardcover version of this book is an aesthetic experience for the bibliophile. Enjoy!