What the internet can tell us about who we really are
partner’s penis is too large, and is causing them physical pain.
Some of the other results concerning female sexuality are also perplexing. Around 8pc of women will admit in conventional surveys to watching porn, but Google estimates that up to 40pc of all searches of porn sites are made by women. What is disturbing here is that it seems many more women than men visit pornographic sites that depict rape and sexual violence against women.
The author admits there is “a darkness” in some of the so-called big data he analyses. The purpose of this book is not merely to provoke or unsettle its readers. Instead, its author believes that the colossal amount of data which surfaces every day on the web will have a revolutionary impact on many aspects of modern life.
He argues that it will provide more detailed and accurate research than has previously been available to economists, sociologists, and psychologists. This, he suggests, will allow them to become, for the first time, genuinely scientific in their methodologies. He believes that should also make their work of greater practical value.
Stephens-davidowitz is aware of some of the risks posed by access to this new reservoir of information. He accepts that the results of big data analyses could lead to greater manipulation of the public by cynical advertisers or canny politicians. On the other hand, he suggests that human fallibility can undermine such effects. Hillary Clinton’s recent presidential campaign, for example, relied upon a sophisticated form of data analysis that eventually proved to be badly flawed.
Big data may also be analysed to deduce our reading habits, and it appears that we sometimes buy books we don’t really want to read, but would like to think that we do.
Amazon posts details of quotations that are taken from the books it sells. One analyst has compared the frequency of quotes taken from the beginning of a book with those from its final chapters. This may indicate how many of those who bought a particular book will have finished reading it.
By that reckoning, less than 3pc of those who began to read the French economist Thomas Piketty’s monumental treatise, Capital in the 21st Century, were able to make it to the closing pages.
Seth Stephens-davidowitz need not worry on that score. His eye-opening book is written in a lively, engaging style, and is more of a page-turner than many works of fiction.