Oliver Daids

20 Jan 2016

CensusAmericans by Jia Zhang


Explained here: http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/introducing-censusamericans-a-twitter-bot-for-america/


This bot generates mini-biographies from American Census data.  What I like most about this bot is how it manages to express an enormous set of data in a bizarrely unique way both detached and personal.  The tweets, limited to 140 characters, follow a strict pattern and have most of the personality that could be communicated by the writing style stripped out.  To some degree, it seems overly reductionist and belittling to summarize a person’s life in 140 characters.  If I were to see a single tweet, I would think nothing of it, and nothing of the person it described.  Oddly, when I see a long timeline of far more tweets than I could possibly scroll through, with each having a different summary, each tweet regains some individuality and I want to imagine what the other details in that person’s life are like.  Because of the shortage of information available to me, my mind wants to latch onto even the most obviously computer-generated of quirks, like in the tweet “I served in WWII.  I got married in 1946.  I used to be on active duty.  I am married.” where I imagine the repeated statement that the person is married being the summarized person’s personality leaking out.  Unfortunately, because of the high number of tweets, these computer-generated artifacts tend to repeat very often which diminishes this quality after seeing it a few times.