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But around the city you also get words like “pretty,” “heartbreak,” “gig” and “cigarette.” That’s what dating someone from Seattle is like — they play in a band, they smoke, and you end up heartbroken.Du Bois used a technique called term frequency-inverse document frequency, or tf-idf, to measure how frequently a unique word appears in a specific zip code, while discounting words used often across many zip codes.Common words like “love” and “sex” fall off the list, leaving behind only the most place-specific words.(People’s names weren’t included, either.) Du Bois then replaced the name of every city in the United States with these words, and his project, called “A More Perfect Union,” was born.Du Bois talks us through the renamed country and shows why the keywords he uncovered constitute no less than the map of a population’s soul.Los Angeles’ word is “acting.” And all around the area, you’ve got all these Hollywood words like “director,” “film,” “blonde” and “career.” Du Bois: New York City’s word is “now.” That’s not only impatience — it’s also, “Now, I’m working as a waiter, but really I’m an actor.” Albany is “assembly,” and Rochester is “Xerox,” one of the companies that dominated the area for years. They’re the names of clubs or bars — places you like to go or things you like to do.
Sometimes the words are a bit more fun — Syracuse is “dinosaur,” because the best restaurant in Syracuse is Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Du Bois: In Chelsea, in Midtown Manhattan, the words are “modern,” “creatives” and “aesthetics,” because that’s where a lot of art galleries are.
So in 2010, when the most recent census came out, artist R.
Luke Du Bois (TED Talk: Insightful human portraits made from data) decided to make his own survey of the country.
Atlantic City is “boardwalk,” and Trenton is “train.” Anyone could’ve figured those out. In the end, I didn’t really do the project for people to find their renamed hometown.
The point is to think about the rhetoric of how we talk about ourselves when we try to get somebody to be interested in us.
If you look downtown near Washington Square Park, you’ve got “voice” — as in “Village Voice.” Sometimes, though, the words don’t really make sense.