Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Club - Dataclysm: Beware of the Internet

Helen occasionally gets her hands on my iPhone and decides to play the role of household documentarian. Usually, it's fine, but a few months ago, I was in the shower and heard the familiar click of the camera. I told her she needed to immediately take the phone to her father and make sure whatever photo she took was deleted.

And of course, she asked "why", because for all I know, she photographed the toilet. And I told her "you must never take a photo in a bathroom". I figure it's one of my better pieces of parenting wisdom. Because no matter what the intention, digital photos have a way of making their way around.

I took a moment to think about how lucky I was that I grew up without Facebook and the internet, so my mistakes could stay tucked away in the memories of me and my friends. That's not a luxury Helen and Connor have. This blog, for example, will need to come down at some point because they will be creating their own stories on their terms, and won't want my version of events in the public domain.

And reading Dataclysm, by Christian Rudder, is a reminder of just how public our lives can be. The author takes data from Facebook, Twitter, a dating site that he created with friends and more, and pieces together all sorts of information about people - information that people may prefer to remain unlinked and largely unknown.

The photo Helen took of me was deleted. And hopefully there will be no bathroom photography sessions in the future. But more hopefully, my children won't end up in a tough spot because some mistake they made gets broadcast more widely than they would want.


This post was inspired by Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder, where he analyzes online data to find out that people who prefer beer are more likely to have sex on a first date. Join From Left to Write on October 9th as we discuss Dataclysm. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


  1. My son loves taking video and he's tried to take photos of other family members in the bathroom--we have a no cameras/videos in the bathroom too.

  2. I'd love to borrow this one from you sometime. I heard Rudder interviewed on NPR about the book, and thought it sounded fascinating. I've occasionally read the OKCupid blog (it was defunct after 2011, but looks like they just started posting again in support of the book?), and it sounds like the book is an expansion on the work they used to post there.