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What is a Trillion Dollars, Anyway?

Posted By Nina Sidoryanskaya On July 24, 2009 @ 9:30 am In Economics | Comments Disabled

This week’s bloggers’ briefing brought the biggest crowd yet; standing room only. What was the draw? Matthias Shapiro, mastermind of the 10,000 pennies videos that have become a viral sensation, showed the eager bunch how to utilize the overused rhetoric and statistics of the day to instead communicate the numbers coming out of Washington in a way that people can digest.

Through his use of visualizations, Shapiro puts real value to seemingly unfathomable amounts of money like millions, billions, and trillions of dollars. We’ve posted these videos before, but they deserve a second look:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJu0DgpiK8c[/youtube]

10,000 pennies is like a real world bar graph, Shapiro explained. He strays away from bar graphs and other computer-generated images, because they lose their meaning in the same way as mere numbers do.

Going a step beyond the visualization, Shapiro has also created the visual metaphor.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5yxFtTwDcc[/youtube]

Shapiro quickly creates the recognizable and approachable ratio of miles per hour that the majority of us experience on a daily basis. Not only that, but it also allows us to perceive the speed in how far we would travel across the country, another characteristic that people can understand.

“When building a visual metaphor the most important this is to give the viewer an experience that they can latch onto. People understand what it’s like to drive 60 miles an hour. People may not have individual experience with 174 miles an hour but they know that is really, really fast,” said Shapiro.


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