If you’ve ever attempted online dating–or really, even filled out your Facebook profile–you know how agonizing it can be to figure out exactly what information about yourself you want to include. How can you quantify, in writing, how you want the rest of the world to see you? That’s the question that the artist R. Luke DuBois aims to answer in his series of graphics, A More Perfect Union.
DuBois’ infographics come in two forms. Some are simple maps of the United States, coded by the number of men and women in each Congressional district who use certain words. For instance, shy:
The bright purple districts have the highest level of people of both sexes who identified as shy. Here is the map for kinky. You’ll note that, for future reference, the kinkiest women are in West Virginia and the kinkiest men are in southern Arizona:
If these maps recall the traditional red and blue political maps we’ve become used to, that’s no coincidence. The process started because of work on political maps, as he tells Co.Design: “I tried my hand at online dating briefly in 2008, and became fascinated with the system and how it works. Around the same time, I was planning a sequel for a piece I had done for the Democratic National Convention in 2008 (“Hindsight Is Always 20/20“) that used presidential rhetoric as its basis, so I wanted to make a piece that looked at a different body of text. I decided to switch, if you will, from the sacred to the profane by looking at how ordinary Americans defined themselves.” The project was released in 2010 to coincide with the new Census results. Consider it a sort of shadow census; an examination of how we actually see ourselves and want to be seen by others.
Here are the maps for funny and lonely:
It’s interesting to see that people are much more likely to describe themselves as lonely and shy than more positive traits like funny or kinky. We are, apparently, a very self-deprecating country. It’s these sort of decisions that fascinated DuBois in the first place; the new sorts of writing that people on dating sites are forced into: “You’re essentially describing yourself for the purpose of being ‘liked’ You … gloss over any self-criticism, and expand your vocabulary to attempt to connect with someone in specific terms. But when you write about the person you want to be with, you find yourself in the opposite scenario, where you need to be honest as possible as to what you’re looking for in a person.”
To see how specific people get, DuBois has also made local maps, where each city features the most prominent word in that city’s profiles. Here, for instance, is the Bay Area of California:
He even drills down by zip code in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Here is downtown Manhattan:
What does DuBois think his informal census results were? Mostly that people are far more interesting and original than he thought. “Very few singles profiles are boilerplate. Everyone has a unique way of writing, or as specific activity they write about, or restaurants, or trips they’ve taken.” How the people in Chinatown are distinguishing themselves by using the word “fleshy,” though, is another question.