The human brain is poorly equipped for comprehending massive quantities.
This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective; large numbers are relatively new features of our mental landscapes. Thousands, millions, billions, and recently trillions—once reserved for describing cosmic distances of faraway galaxies—have been brought down to Earth in terms of the national deficits we accrue, the bytes of information we clock, and critically, the stuff we consume. But how to wrap one’s head around such unfathomable figures in a meaningful way? In Running the Numbers, photographer Chris Jordan attempts to convey the vastness of modern consumption by breaking down annual statistics into more graspable quantities depicted by clever visualizations made of individual objects or groups of objects that he photographs. The 106,000 aluminum cans consumed in the US every 30 seconds, for instance, become the individual dots of Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. “There’s a disconnect that happens when we assume we know what we’re talking about when we talk about hundreds of millions of plastic bottles,” Jordan says. “I’m trying to translate these numbers from the deadening language of statistics into a visual language that allows some kind of comprehension.”
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