Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Magic Washing Machine

Hans Rosling—global health professor and chairman of Gapminder—makes statistical data about international development come alive. In a December 2010 TED Talk, Rosling argues that washing machines have proven vital in helping women in developing nations contribute to the progress of their societies. While this topic may not excite every viewer at first glace, Rosling brings enough creativity and energy to excite millions.

Why is this presentation so strong? Rosling knows his topic well, he's enthusiastic about addressing his audience, and he begins with a compelling personal story that immediately grabs the reader. Moreover, he uses a creative framing device—the washing machine—to bring to light some fundamental ideas about international development. And he uses not only slides but also props to enhance his message.

Another popular video that demonstrates Rosling's creativity is from The Joy of Stats, a hour-long documentary that he created with the BBC in 2010 and that is available in full online. In this five-minute clip from the documentary, Rosling dazzles his viewers once again with both his knowledge and his creative presentation techniques.

Rosling's ability both to understand social phenomena and to communicate so effectively reminds me of one of my favorite passages from Charles Baudelaire's The Painter of Modern Life. Beaudelaire writes, "Few men have the gift of seeing. Fewer still have the power of expression." We are lucky that Rosling is sharing his gifts with the world.


  1. Rosling was amazing. Thanks for featuring his work on your blog.

  2. Lived in West Africa for some time - and there - did my own laundry by hand for a while, with a bucket. Hard, hard work - and takes hours to do. Then hired a couple of kids to do it for me - for about $.50 / kid (a fortune for a kid to earn where I lived). - So, in traditional West African societies - the men work in the fields each day (backbreaking, hot, tough work) - while the women go to the market and cook and do the washing. But - technology is changing all of that - just as it did in the 1st World. Men are getting tractors, and expanding their agricultural production, villages are being electrified... Some women even save up to buy a communal washing machine - and then - watch out... Their productivity goes up, they start businesses, they save money and invest it... That's how capitalistic development brings millions out of poverty each year. (That's how the US went from an agricultural backwater to the most powerful nation in the world in a couple of hundred years...) - - The big broader question is to me - What happens when we all have affordable robots to do our chores (the lawn, the housecleaning, the shopping, etc.) - Do we then devote ourselves to uplifting and creative endeavors - the best of what humans have to offer - or do we become lazy unable-to-think or create self-inverted creatures (as in the Brave New World)? In a century, humankind will in many places be freed from drudgework of all sorts. What will we do with our time and freedom? Will we be the most we can be? or the least?