21 Jul 2017

What is it with Austrians and diving records?

There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’, said Terence Fletcher, the rhythm-dictating fascist drumteach in 2014 Hollywood blockbusting outlier, Whiplash.

It’s alright being good at something but being the best at something is a huge ask for the individual. Not so for countries, according to David McCandless and the infographic rockstarati over at Information is Beautiful.

The 2016 edition set about drawing on an astonishingly diverse set of public data, from the CIA to the NY Times through to freak-editions of Mental Floss and the Daily Beast, all to benchmark loads of countries around the world at being The Best at something.

Next, of course, Dave and his sexifiers of all things data, did what they do best and visualised it, serving it up delectably to the great unwashed of the world wide web.

informationisbeautiful

It’s a compelling data concept and the execution is, let’s face it, ace – apart from looking fabulous, it’s almost impossible not to check out every cited country on the vector beautymap.

Kuwaitis, according to Forbes magazine, are the ‘best at Twitter’, based on the Top 10 countries per capita use. It’s a lovely way to measure it because if you ‘go missionary’ and do it by absolute number of Twitter users, it’s obviously the USA who rock the stat.

The best thing about the study is how the data creates a dialogue and challenges our own preconceptions, exposing our ignorance and sometimes prejudice. For example, who knew Hungary had the best porn stars, based on John Millward’s study of 10,00 porn stars and their careers back in 2013.

Okay, I mean Denmark being best at Wind Power was never going to surprise me, and the Swiss best at innovation? Mah, whatevs. Even the Lithuanians sporting the fastest WiFi doesn’t make me hold onto my hat and I kind of knew that Cuba had the best doctors, Brazil the best sugar, Argentina the best horse meat.

What I didn’t know was that Croatia is best for kidney transplants, France is best for whiskey drinkers (though what constitutes ‘best’ is slightly dubious here, i.e. whiskey consumption per capita), Egypt has the heaviest women which may work, superlatively speaking, Sweden has the best pop music, according to the Abba-loving Financial Times, or that Ireland has the best working conditions.

Like any set of far-reaching, random public data sets, there comes a point in the egghead’s perusal when the integrity or validity of the data has to be questioned. It’s a wonderful bit of fun and I love the corrections and updates, like Canada is now best for Personal Freedom, compared to Doughnuts from whence it came.

What Mediacells can’t forgive is its estimation that Austrians are only best at Paid Time Off. For a while here at Mediacells we have been pondering what it is about the Austrians that make them absolute nutters when it comes to extreme diving.

Felix Baumgartner jumped from a frickin’ helium balloon in the stratosphere and broke skydiving records for exit altitude, vertical freefall distance (39km) and vertical speed ( 1,357.64 km/h) without drogue. At the other end of the spectrum, quite literally, is Austrian freediver Herbert Nitsch, who is the current assisted freediving world record champion and “deepest man on earth” having dove 831 feet into the deep.

It would be good to flip the supremacy metric on its head and find out which countries are the worst at stuff.

As David Brent tweets, ‘Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.’