When US Census is collected, the data paints a certain picture of the country — we learn about age ranges, population sizes and common professions.
But R. Luke Dubois, an artist, composer and professor of digital media, wanted to track Americans in a different way. Dubois, who creates interpretive representations of data, decided in 2010 to map the United States based on the words used in online dating profiles.
So he signed up for 21 different online dating services — from Match.com to eHarmony — and programmed an automated system to create profiles in every zip code of the country. Then he used a spider — a specialised program that crawls the entirety of a site and downloads all the information within it — to download all the profiles of potential matches. In total, he wound up with 19 million dating profiles.
The effort took 10 computers three months, and once he had the data, he used it to create an alternate census. He took a map of the United States and created an algorithm that replaced every city’s official name with the word that was used more often in profiles there than it was anywhere else.
Take a look at what the dating profiles in Dubois’ project, called “A More Perfect Union,” show about US cities.
Dubois says he chose to highlight the word used more in a certain area than anywhere else because otherwise the map would look too homogeneous. 'If you just did the most common words, everything would be 'love,' and in Los Angeles it would be 'sex,'' he tells Business Insider.
LA's words include 'lingerie,' 'booty,' 'spanking,' and, of course, 'screenwriter.'
'I don't know how anyone gets a date in Washington, DC because they're the most boring words in the world,' Dubois jokes.
Around Dupont Circle and Logan Circle, the city's map features lots of international words -- 'Paraguay,' 'Estonia,' 'Kashmiri' -- as well as others one might expect to find in the nation's capital, such as 'political,' 'socially,' and 'journalist.'
The area around Boston uses the word 'people' in dating profiles more than any other city, though close behind are 'drinks,' 'laugh,' and unsurprisingly, 'Sox.'
Dubois says his motivation in creating the project was to create a map of how people around the country think and talk about their own identities. 'I was looking for a body of data that could get at ordinary Americans describing themselves,' he says.
The word New York City used more than any other was, fittingly, 'now.' But DuBois broke down the five boroughs in much more detail to examine the language used in different neighbourhoods. And the words certainly reveal their individual characteristics.
Manhattan's East Village (left) has words like 'taxi,' 'photography,' and 'brunch,' while across the river, Williamsburg, Brooklyn fits commonly held stereotypes about the area with words like 'hipsters,' 'urbane,' and 'DJ.'
'I live between unconditional and midsummer,' Dubois says of his West Side neighbourhood.
'Rich' was the descriptor used in more dating profiles in Houston, Texas than any other city. Daters in San Antonio used the word 'correct' most often, and Austin profiles mentioned 'clubs.'
Dubois says he was particularly interested in looking at the language used in dating profiles because so many considerations go into crafting those statements.
'You have to describe yourself in a way where you sound interesting but not crazy,' he says, 'It's a balancing act.'
The Bay Area's map boasts more words related to sexual orientation than anywhere else in the country, including 'bisexual,' 'homosexual,' 'lesbian,' and 'queer.' Tech words, including 'robot' and 'digitised' can also be found in Silicon Valley (south of the area shown above).
Unsurprisingly, the word used more in Detroit than anywhere else is 'automotive.' 'Machine' and 'GM' are up there as well. In nearby Ann Arbor, the most common is 'graduating,' while Lansing's is 'companionship and Flint's is 'dope.'
'The census is really important data but it's not descriptive of us,' Dubois says. 'I thought it would be interesting to do a counterproposal that doesn't get any of the useful stuff and only gets the useless stuff.'
The word most unique to Anchorage is 'outdoorsy,' though nearby areas also have 'nippy' and 'berries.' 'Corsair,' which also appears, was the name of a high-end French restaurant (which has since closed) that was likely a popular date spot when Dubois gathered the data.
He says restaurant names, major employers and sports teams often appear as the most-used word in a given city relative to anywhere else.
'Conservative' was the word found in more profiles in Jackson, Mississippi than the rest of the country. Other stereotypically Southern terms can be found nearby, including 'cornbread' and 'Baptist.'
Dubois acknowledges, of course, that the words are not necessarily representative of a place as a whole -- if there aren't many profiles to use in a given location, then one person who repeats a certain word over and over in their profile could skew the whole area towards that descriptor. That was more likely to happen in small towns or rural areas, however, than in cities.
The area of Downtown Chicago near Lake Michigan boasts an eclectic array of terms, from 'companionate,' to 'gravitated.'
'One of the things I really liked was the diversity of self-expression,' Dubois says of his results.
To see Dubois' full interactive maps of dating words in cities and states, find 'A More Perfect Union' on his website.
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