Each decade the United States government embarks on a census of its entire population in order to update population numbers and demographic information that aids in the allocation of Congressional seats, electoral votes, and government program funding. But as helpful and interesting as this data is, what does it really tell us about who we are? What about our likes, dislikes, feelings, and the ways we choose to define ourselves? In his project A More Perfect Union, artist R. Luke Dubois asked this very question and set out to answer it by joining 21 dating web sites and aggregating language used in the profiles of 19 million people. The data was then organized to create dozens of insanely detailed city and state maps that tell a wonderfully rich story about who we are, or at least, who we claim to be. Via his artist statement:
To join a dating site you have to, quite literally, “put yourself out there”, describing yourself for the express purpose of being liked. This seemingly simple act is quite complex. You have to provide, in addition to some basic statistics, two pieces of prose: you have to say who you are, and you have to say who you want to be with. In the second piece of writing, you have to tell the truth. In the first, you have to lie.
I joined twenty-one dating sites in order to make my own census of the United States in 2010. These are my findings: a road atlas of the United States, with the names of cities, towns, and neighborhoods replaced with the words people use to describe themselves and those they want to be with.
These maps contain 20,262 unique words, based on the analysis of online dating profiles from 19,095,414 single Americans.
Below are some examples of maps where locations are substituted with words people used to describe themselves. Click any image for more detail.
DuBois also used the data to generate heatmaps helping to draw comparisons between specific terms county by county.
A More Perfect Union was shown at bitforms gallery in New York earlier this year. Take a deep dive into the maps Dubois created at his website, and check out a short video about the project. (thnx, leif!)