Sunday, September 1, 2013

Data: A Love Story, by Amy Webb

I enjoyed the hell out of this book. After two weeks of Perdido Street Station, I really needed to read something lighter and more simply entertaining, but still smart and interesting. "Data" totally fit the bill.

Quick summary - After months of truly horrific online dating & feeling pressured by her mother's terminal illness to find a life partner as soon as possible, newly 30 Amy Webb threw herself into "hacking" J-date using an awe-inspiring level of math, science, and color-coded spreadsheets (not to mention countless in-real-life hours spent remaking her physical appearance & presentation). To the shock of her skeptical friends and family, her experiment found her the perfect "1500 point" husband within a few months. (Not a spoiler - she includes the happy ending in the introduction.)

The topic may sound superficial, but if you are at all a mathy-codey-hacky-data-loving type of person, you very well may find a lot of her story fascinating. Absolutely, online daters will probably find it even more interesting (and informative), but I enjoyed it purely based on its existence at the weird intersection of statistics & sociology. No doubt, her methods struck me as creepy, desperate, unbalanced, and back-away-slowly-inducing at first, but then again, she got exactly the result she was after on the first try, and as her now-husband of eight years explains at one point, part of what charmed him about her extreme and highly calculating approach was that she'd figured out how to "out-think the problem" -- to dissect and then re-make a broken system in a way that worked for her, rather than just living with the default set-up when it clearly was not getting her the results she wanted.

Just a few quibbles:

  • I am not generally someone who is bothered by cursing, but seriously. Every third word in the book is "fuck" / "fucking" / "fucker" / etc. It's the one thing that makes her writing come across at times as amateurish.
  • Some of the side stories feel like unnecessary digressions. For example, I'm not sure how the story of how she went clothes shopping & ended up having a melt down in the Banana Republic dressing room really forwarded the main narrative.
  • While the emphasis of her story is on the shrewd collection & analysis of online dating data & makeover of her digital self, there is some discussion of the real-life transformation she overtook as a result of her findings re: what the type of men she was interested in meeting found attractive, which in & of itself is fine. What felt a bit awkward to me was all the detail about how much time & money all that cost her -- a new wardrobe, six days a week at the gym, three days with a personal trainer, a $300 haircut, walking into a high-end cosmetics store & basically saying, "I need all-new make-up; I have lots of money to spend & am free til two," etc. Those details seem potentially alienating to the hopeful online daters out there who have to go to actual jobs for 8-10 hours a day & don't have oodles of disposable income.

Still, it was fabulously entertaining & educational, a quick & easy read, and I would imagine *incredibly* informative to anyone who's gotten disillusioned with the online dating scene.

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