Money, money, money in an infographic’s world
Following on from my last infographic blog on Geeks vs Nerds, this time I wanted to indulge in a discussion of one of the most complicated infographics I’ve ever seen. The cult webcomic xkcd (to paraphrase their own warning, parental discretion is advised for some of their comics due to language and the like – but not this one) put together this epic infographic of almost all the money in the world, where it is and what it’s worth.
When I first saw this chart, I thought it was daunting, and it took me a good hour to figure out how to read it. If you like a challenge, ignore the below and dive right in. If it looks like it’s too much, take the advice of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and don’t panic. We’ll get through this together.
We start at the top left of the chart. In the ‘Dollars’ section, you’ll find a little green square with “$1 bill” beside it. Fundamentally, this is how the whole chart works. Each time you move to a new section (Thousands, Millions, Billions and Trillions) this key resets itself, as well as giving a sense of scale to just how much money there actually is.
Underneath this, you then get an idea of how much that dollar (or thousand dollars, or million dollars and so on) could buy you, and an idea of how that money is being spent. As you flow down the left hand side of the chart, the units increase to thousands, then you move to the bottom centre to millions, then back up to billions, and finally in the bottom right corner you’ll find trillions
Each time, the step up in value starts to illustrate the sheer volume of money (mainly in the United States as this is where xkcd is based) and what it’s actually doing. It’s a bit daunting when you reach the trillions box and it seems a bit doom and gloom – and ultimately this is a limitation of infographics is that it’s difficult for them to provide context for all the data in them.
So while some of the graphics may seem to paint a gloomy looking vision for the future, it’s important to realise that they necessarily can’t tell the full story. After all, despite the huge amount of information contained in this graphic, you still can’t tell the entire story just through pictures.
There are substantial economic, social and political factors that influence every part of this story, and because they themselves are largely intangible (trying to attach a value to an idea is one of the most difficult things for economists to do), if the graphic grabs your interest, you should go and do some reading and find out more on the topic.
As much as anything else, this infographic shows the power of this medium to tell a story that is more accessible than the complex datasets the image is based on. You could easily write several thousand words on the statistics used to pull the chart together. However, infographics really do provide an option to present these things in a truly engaging way to an audience that otherwise mightn’t bother to look at the raw numbers.
Of course, my fascination with infographics is also because I’m envious of those who create them. I only have a basic working knowledge of Photoshop, and haven’t even begun to look into the 3D drawing programs many of these people use to create their masterpieces.
This infographic is so HUGE, we could only fit the left hand column. Click the image below to open the full xkcd infographic.