‘The world has never been less bad’
Religion & Liberty Online

‘The world has never been less bad’

A new interactive tool shows that men, women, and families from around the world have a lot more similarities than differences.

With the U.S. presidential election, confusion over Brexit, and seemingly crumbling international relationships, 2016 feels like it’s been months and months of anger, resentment, and disharmony. Americans—and non-Americans too—are feeling like we have nothing in common with anyone anymore. It’s worth taking a moment to look at the data and realize that just isn’t true.

Gapminder recently launched a new project, “Dollar Street,” with the tagline, “where country stereotypes fall apart.” This project is a study of 240 homes in 50 countries that includes more than 30,000 photos. Imagine that the entire world lives on one street, Dollar Street, and the houses are lined up by monthly income, those making $26 are on the far left and, the highest in study, a family making $11,381/month are on the far right. Everyone else falls somewhere between them. Gapminder asks, “Where would you live? Would your life look different than your neighbours’ from other part of the world, who share the same income level?”

Gapminder is an “independent Swedish foundation” that calls itself a “fact tank” rather than a think tank. They produce “free teaching resources making the world understandable based on reliable statistics.” Its founders saw, what they call a “global ignorance” about development among leaders, journalists, activists, and pretty much everyone else. There is always news about drama, nastiness, and things getting worse. Gapminder founders were curious if the world really is as bad as it seems. It isn’t. “The world has never been less bad,” the website notes. Dollar Street is just the newest tool in Gapminder’s box to help us understand the world in which we live.

You can break down the data on Dollar Street so it shows everyone or shows specific regions or countries. Then you can see photos of the families’ pets, teeth, toys, hands, toilets, families, homes, beds, bathrooms, stoves, front doors, sitting areas, books, bathrooms doors, bedrooms, toilet paper, light sources, phones, and more.

The thousands of pictures show, more than anything else, how similar the human experience is across the globe. Looking at the toys from around the world, there are plenty of recognizable types and brands even in countries we might be tempted to believe have nothing in common with the United States. Scrolling through, there are many Teddy Bears, there’s a collection of rubber ducks in Cambodia, A “minion” toy in India, A Barbie collection in Nepal, but there’s also a collection of old plastic bottles in Cote d’lvoire, armless and footless dolls in Indian and Liberia, and a plant pod in Burundi. It would be naïve to say children are all enjoying the same luxuries, but there are more recognizable toys than unfamiliar ones.

Another interesting find involves access to technology. A family with a $29/month income has a color screen, simple cell phone. There are many phones like this, but also many smart phones. On the far right side, a family living in the Ukraine taking in more than $10K/month uses an iPhone. Despite being in almost every American home for decades, there are very few landlines pictured. The creation and adoption of cell phones has helped connect us all and make someone living on less than a dollar a day enjoy similar technology to someone living on hundreds of dollars a day. A simple phone isn’t the same as an iPhone, but they both use technology that was unheard of not that long ago.

One of the best finds in the pictures? People from all countries, income levels, and climates have one thing in common: We love cats and dogs (and pigs and chickens, but cats and dogs are the most common pets). Whether we’re struggling to get by or have an abundance of wealth, we love our furry companions.

All photos in the project are available to be used and shared under the Creative Commons license and all content is free.