Books to Make You Smarter: Dataclysm

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given its subject matter, Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), has been all over the Internet the last few weeks.

Christian Rudder is a co-founder of the online dating site, OkCupid and has access to an incredible amount of data. You probably already realized that Rudder is an exceptionally brilliant individual (he did help set up a website based on algorithms after all) but I think you will still be blown away with what this man can do with data. In Dataclysm, he takes this data and manipulates it to tell the truth about people, the truth about us when we’re not busy pretending to be someone we’re not.

I’m not going to lie, it’s not a pretty picture all the time. When we think no one is looking we have a tendency to be racist, misogynistic and homophobic. We are also ageist and have a tendency to rate beauty more highly as a favourable characteristic than we should.

But there were also glimpses of hope in there. Like the fact that social media isn’t killing language, it is expanding it. According to Rudder, ” language is more varied than ever before […] From high flown language of literary fiction to the simple, even misspelled, status update, through all this writing runs a common purpose […] we use words to connect.”

There was also a graph in the book about how pizza is basically the most popular food ever and that’s something that I totally relate to.

I think my favourite discussion in the book was about relationships and your facebook friends. The theory was basically that those relationships where there was the highest overlap in friends were the most successful because those partners were a part of all the different parts of each others’ lives: highschool and university friends, families, co-workers etc. If you want to give it a try (and you should because it’s cool to see) click here.

At times this is a really technical book – it is a book based completely on mathematics after all. Rudder even points out that he’s the exact opposite of Malcolm Gladwell who takes a statistic and builds a very personal story around it. Rudder takes all the numbers and looks at what they all tell when they are combined and at times, in an effort to explain the numbers’ sources, it was a little over my head. But then he charmed me back with his extremely readable and relateable prose (he called Dr. Phil a “grinning warlock” on the first page and basically won me over then and there).

I think you will like this one if you’re curious about the behind-the-scenes social media scene, if you like to be able to pull out stats and facts at parties or if you’re just looking for some interesting non-fiction to read this season.