Dear Kris: a graph of words

Nearly 20 years ago I was roommates with Open Set contributor Kris Cohen. He went on to be a professor of art history; I ended up in San Francisco as a programmer for startups. This is an age, though, where technologists freely borrow from anthropology, art, and design, and when art and culture are shaped in part by technology and technology’s economic effects. Whenever we see each other, which is too rarely, we have excellent conversations, ones where we examine topics of common interest from perspectives (and using vocabularies) that are often very different. This is the first of a series of letters that I hope will interest both him and Open Set readers.

Dear Kris:

The other day I got my bee in a bonnet about something that I thought would interest you: an easy way to try to look at the cultural balance between men’s and women’s voices. Perhaps you’ll find a way to apply the technique to some of your work. And if not, at least I’ll get to complain about how hard good graphs are to make.

It started with an article in The Guardian’s data journalism blog. They were looking at the frequency of various phrases over time in the New York Times. They had several graphs showing how often particular phrases were used in articles each year, like “Brooklyn” vs “Manhattan” or “Britain” vs “France”. This is the one that really struck me:

NY Times Continue reading