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Hans Rosling

Director, Gapminder Foundation

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What are your thoughts and questions on "the magic washing machine"?

I will be answering questions on my new TED talk today at 11.30 -1.30 pm EST.
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  • Mar 21 2011: You make a solid case that technology frees up (and therefore empowers people (particularly women) ) but what about the case where the poorest people tend to pool their work that you are replacing reading or solitary endeavours with social ones. Isn't it a loss to have the group of women who together washed their clothes down by the river together, that while they washed they talked and shared expertise, gave advice and support each other, and now with an electric wash machine are cut off from that social interaction? I wonder if technology is really a step forward, or step backward. Although I completely agree with your case for the air crowd going greener, it's their responsibility.
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      Mar 21 2011: Hi Kelly,
      I think you are completely wrong! It is so easy to think that hard and boring work is nicer than a life with more time for reading (like TED conversation). But pleas prove me wrong by telling me which women would choose to wash by the river instead of having a washing machine. My mother and my grandmothers loved the washing machine. And it was really so that my grandmothers and my mothers loved to read books.
      I have also failed to find any study that reports where young women with families state that they prefer to live without electricity. I have spent 20 years doing annual 2-4 weeks field surveys in remote rural parts of Africa. And without exception all women want electricity and all forms of lamps and machines that can make their hard daily life easier. SO MY PERSONAL QUESTION KELLY, HOW DO YOU WASH YOUR BEDSHEETS AND LAUNDRY! :-) I hand-washed one pair of pants for my grandchild this week-end because we were in a hurry, but I also loaded 3 washing machines.
      • Mar 21 2011: well, I have to say I still think you are characterizing solo versus group activity by subjective cultural difference. In my western experience, yes, washing clothes is a solitary experience, it is in my house, I even have a room dedicated to it I am from the air group, I am sure! My responsibility, highlighted by your talk is to use my technology in a greener manner/

        I am not saying that technology isn't a good thing, just that we may be giving up things that we don't know we value, and the movement towards individualized, automated tasks isn't always good. I wouldn't deny that your mother and grandmother enjoyed the advent of the wash machine.

        My mother enjoyed the using the microwave, and , plastic storage that we now know is harmful.

        In cultures where, from a western standpoint, we would find the treatment of women oppressive, does cutting them off from social interaction help?

        Just because it helped your grandmother, does it mean it's going to help everyone? Do we have the right to apply our ideals on any culture? There are so many examples of how that has gone wrong.

        And would delivering a wash machine to a community that doesn't have clean drinking water be a helpful thing?

        Your statistics, if I remember had the energy output, I wonder how many loads of laundry that means? The greater our income, maybe we have more clothes to wash, maybe our standard of what we consider clean is higher, but really what it seems to me is that the higher the income, maybe the more laundry we do. is that a good thing?

        By the way, I really enjoyed your talk! it clearly invigorated me, caused me to think, thank you for being available to answer questions!
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          Mar 21 2011: In which way is plastic storage and micro wave harmful. I have never heard that. Which study have you read?
        • Mar 21 2011: Kelly, let me add some details as to how washing is done in rural Kenya and Rwanda (two places I have lived), at least based on my observations and experiences.

          In such rural areas families live in multi-generational compounds. Great-grandparents (if they are still alive), grandparents, parents and children all live together or within very close proximity to one another. In such cases, as you say, washing (and cooking and cleaning and pretty much everything) is a social activity. But when you bring a washing machine into the main house (typically you'll only have one for the compound) the washing continues to be a social activity, it's just now done in the house and is much more efficient and less laborious.

          But forget washing machines for a moment and apply this logic to fetching water from the nearest water source (river or community tap). It's not uncommon for women to walk for over an hour round-trip to get the daily water. If a water tap can be brought into the compound this saves all these daily trips. The social component does not go away. There's plenty of other work (no shortage, really) that keeps these women interacting socially. But a small amount of their time is now suddenly freed up.

          Based on my experience, these are not changes being forced onto anyone. If given the choice between spending a dozen hours or more per week on these tasks and swapping them for less labor-intensive solutions it's not really much of a choice.
        • Mar 22 2011: @ Kelly; I would like to point out one thing. In his talk Anil Gupta showed his dismay when the indian government came up with picture for promoting tourism in India. In the picture there was a woman carrying a pot full of water in her head. Some may say that woman is putting her effort for preserving her tradition but placing us in her shoes would help to think better (I don't think she has a pair of shoe). Solo versus group activity. People will always find ways to work together whether it is about washing clothes together or reading books together. I will opt for second option.
          http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/anil_gupta_india_s_hidden_hotbeds_of_invention.html
        • Mar 23 2011: I agree with many who have responded to you, Kelly. I believe that the whole point is that something like a washing machine is a labor saving device, enabling people to spend time on an education, on books, on spending valuable time with others doing other things--socializing, working, reading, improving their lives. And I also agree with a point in Hans's talk, and referenced by another poster in entirely different comment, that it is rather hypocritical of those of us with the benefits of modern technology to say to those with so little: no, the planet cannot afford for you to get these benefits. We are all in this together, and need to help raise people up, not keep them down.
          Sorry...I will get down off my soap box now.
        • Mar 23 2011: Dear Kelly,

          I'm quite persuaded by your viewpoint but was more swayed by Prof Hans argument having had firsthand experiences of the two worlds. Born and bred in a first class village that still has resemblance of stone age, and now inhabiting a developed society and having traveled extensively in the recent years. The fact of life in such poverty-stricken societies like mine (BTW, I am from Africa, and precisely from SE part of Nigeria) is that they could be poor economically but really rich socially. This could goes to explain why inspite their sufferings at least speaking from daily experience of my own community, it is unheard of, hearing or seeing people committing suicide as often the daily realities in developed societies. This is a real dilemma of life that some of us, are facing trying to find a balance of the two opposing worlds where people have all they wants/needs but are socially elusive and miserable compared to those in the "poverty line" where people lack basic things of life, but at least they are closer touch to nature.

          To buttress my point, in most part of Africa, the revolution in mobile telephoning is legendary and in my opinion, is the most outstanding technology one can readily think about. It's incredible to see how it has improved lives and even created and enlarged social space. In such societies, even the most wretched households could afford to starve to be able to have a phone. There is really a huge market in such places. Therefore, deploying washing machines in my opinion might only redefine the social dynamics but certainly not limit or undermine it. People will still find a socially creative way of using their washing "free time". Maybe not reading books like Hans Grannie who is fortunate to have at least basic education, but maybe participating in community organising self-help activities. No doubt technology has pervasive impacts on lives irrespective of where one lives, and the difference only lies on their creative use
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          Mar 24 2011: First, Dr. Rosling is using a strawman argument. Western environmentalists are not against people in the developing world from having any particular technology. The issue is over negative externalities and how western economies often try to separate social costs from transaction costs. Electric washing machines are not technologies that can function alone, they require a whole ecosystem of other technologies to make them work, which in turn can be very damaging to cultures and ecosystems.

          Second, if there were non-electric based washing machines available, green-conscious consumers would buy them. If some entrepreneur wanted to make a quieter version of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Le85KjalzwM&feature=watch_response_rev, I'm sure a lot of people would want one. A small village could pool together its resources to buy one or two of these. They need to make sure that they don't use harsh detergent soaps if they plan to take the water from a public source that other people use.

          Third, if we combine other similar innovative approaches, we can give people in non-industrialized countries a high quality of life without using such destructive methods. Such as the clay jar refrigerator, solar thermal cooking, and more. The great thing about developing nations is that they can leap frog the industrial period and lead the green technology revolution.
        • Mar 25 2011: Dear Kelly, Emmanuel, and everyone else,

          I see a lot of value in all points expressed here, but I believe we should look at a different society and from a different angle when we want to prevent social ills like loneliness and lack of social contact.
          Technology and modern culture have indeed lead to estrangement in "developed" societies. I completely hear you, Emmanuel, when you talk about suicide being very strange in poorer societies. Depression is another ill we really need to look at...
          So if there is a NEGATIVE correlation between wealth (expressed in access to technology and free time) and the quality of social life, I think what we should try is to address the SIGN of this correlation. We want technology to bring more positive, worthwhile, enriching and empowering social experiences. We want people to learn to value their social life as much as (and even more than) they value their possessions. We want to measure social status not by the car we drive (alone) or the brands we wear, or the facebook friends we have, but by the quality time we spend with friends, family, or even strangers, whether online or face-to-face!
          So let's take this 0-sum game and make it a win-win, just like it was in Hans Rosling's bed time story experience!
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      • Mar 21 2011: "how their life is being wasted" really? I just hope that once "they" get access to their time saving device, the have a school to go to, that accepts female students, that they have opportunities that are equal to their dreams.

        I guess I worry about a world where we see female empowerment by male standards. and in many countries where female and male rights are not equal, I don't see that solved by a clothes washer, not without deep infrastructure change, and superficial technological solutions aren't what is going to power those deep change.

        thanks for your response,
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          Mar 24 2011: Hi Kelly - I'm with your argument, but not wholly. In short, we collectively need to understand that it is unfair for us to say 'we have our energy, but you can't have yours because its destroying the planet'. What is required is a more wise and considered pursuit of technological (and social ) change. Not all change is progress, and it easy to be whipped along by the enthusiasm of the change itself, without considering the wider future implications. I can't help feeling that some way back, humanity took a wrong turn and as a result is now faced with the most pressing challenges the world has ever faced. The challenge is to find new ways, and new philosophies, that allow progress for all, whilst protecting and marshalling the resources we have. Option that seem impractical and illogical right now, will, when we look back, seem the most logical and practical.
          Social health and integrity, physical and mental health, education and learning, a pathway out of poverty, and opportunity for fulfilling lives are all far more important than financial wealth or technological advancement for faster living. I don't have the answer - just the will and passion to find one that works for the majority, rather than the minority. I guess I'm an awakened 'Airliner'. And yes, I do sometimes (often) wash my clothes by hand - we don't have a washing machine on my expedition truck :-)
        • Mar 27 2011: I wish I owned an expedition truck so I could have an excuse to wash my clothes by hand, but I'm too poor :] Thanks for your insight Paul
        • Mar 27 2011: YES Kelly, standing at a single point and washing clothes repeatedly for numerous hours on end IS wasting your time when you can efficiently wash clothes in a fraction of that time. This repetitive and strenuous form of manual labor causes arthritis, back pains and is a great catalyst for carpal tunnel syndrome and variety of other horrible outcomes. To think for a moment that there is ANYTHING positive to come from it shows that you must have an entirely romanticized view of what is actually happening here. The fact is that a lot of the people (I'm speaking of kids now which is what I assume you are referring to when you brought up education) are most likely going to school. Adding manual labor to their day does not help them with their schooling, it impedes it.

          I have been to South Africa and spent some time there and witnessed first hand what the conditions are like. There is not a single person I have EVER met would prefer the manual labor you believe is so invigorating and essential in social aspects.

          From a different angle; I also have many friends from India who describe waking up at 3a.m to work for 5 hours on their parents farm before walking for an hour to school as nothing but depressing.

          Another fact is that most of these communities we speak of are not isolated out in the wilderness impervious to the impact of our first world society. Countries like Africa and India are riddled with contradicting standards. You'll find 1st world and 3rd world in the same postcode. You won't find people in these communities looking upon us thinking "Oh what a shame that they live their 21st century lifestyles while here I am, with my simple life, where I romantically wash clothes by the riverside with my 5 best friends in these beautiful cholera infested waters." You'll probably find the sort of jealousy and envy that is associated with the increase in petty crime in these countries.
      • Mar 21 2011: It is very easy from a western culture Point of view to say that these women in rural areas would love to have a washing machine. But, you fail to understand the concepts of simplicity and hard work that other cultures value in these seemingly "life-wasting" tasks. You would be GREATLY surprised how much one could learn about life by simply taking a long journey to the river and using your bare hands to wash these clothes.
        • Mar 26 2011: Nafissa, you have got to the heart of the matter here. Thanks
    • Mar 21 2011: Hi Kelly,

      I think you have a pretty tough argument at hand :-). Making it short, I agree to the social point and disagree to the washing mashine point. I think that there are only few people who do not want to have a washing mashine, because they like it ;-).

      It's hard to tell people to live without energy.

      Why do we have nuclear plants when everybody knows that it's dangerous as the world can see in Fukushima today? It's simply because everyone wants energy and nobody wants to fall short of it.

      Electricity is comfortable and frees up time!

      But I feel your social point is true. Maybe not with the washing mashine, but I think, technology can also be a great barrier to social communication.

      My personal experience with electronic communication, for example, is that I have more means of communication: e-mail, chat, social networks... and I can chat/mail to a plenty of people, but I don't feel it as real communication because it's only text; I cannot look in their eyes.

      Im actually happier at work, when I am having a face-to-face communication with my boss :-). Yeah, sounds crazy.

      I want to enforce your social point, because I think that the "washing mashine" (don't take it literally here) robs socially weak people the chance to have a real face-to-face communication.
    • Mar 22 2011: might I add to Hans that the invention of 'washing machine' does not force everyone to use one. If people would enjoy hand washing clothes then let them be free to do so.
      For all others there is this automatic device...

      Your argument is about as strong as "Because I have a mobile phone I spent less time with my friends, as now I don't go over to tell them something which I can also text"
      • Mar 22 2011: Yes, my argument is as strong as "Because I have a mobile phone I spent less time with my friends, as now I don't go over to tell them something which I can also text".

        This may sound ridiculous, but there are people who think like I do.

        Technology changes our culture and it also has negative side-effects.

        Your first argument is also a bit too straight forward. Of cource you are not forced to use the washing mashine. There's no one with a gun behind you :-D. But if everyone else does, then you are forced, too.

        Remember, social is more than one!
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          Mar 27 2011: In this case, you, and every one who thinks cell phones and washing machines ruin the good old days lifestyle of simplicity can just get rid of your phones and washing machines.
          You are not forced into using cellphones and washing machines just because everyone else does.

          What Hans is doing is simply noting that MOST people (almost every single person on the planet) prefers having machines do the hard work for them instead of doing it by hand.
          Most people think it is a good thing for themselves, and they have the freedom to do so. Why argue with them?
  • Mar 22 2011: I loved the talk and completely agree. I'm a product of living in a country where women washed laundry by hand. My grandmother purchased a washing machine and was the envy of the village. More than that it transformed our household. Doing laundry by hand is a tedious, time consuming work that is needed but not really productive. We all need clean clothes but should we expect people to waste half of their life doing it? Doing laundry by hand took my grandmother 5 days out of the week, usually for 4 hours a day for everyone in the house. That is a lot of time!

    Women find multiple ways to converse and maintain relations without having to do manual labor together as some have suggested on here. Why not make it easier? I know my grandmother had more time to spend with me and the family because of it.

    I loved the talk.
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    Mar 21 2011: I think you've helped to redefine the economic and social standing by putting out "Air line" and "Wash line"
  • Mar 27 2011: Dear Dr Rosling,
    It isn't just your grandmother and mother who thought/think that the washing machine is a miracle. I've lived in flats where there wasn't one and to go to a laundrette or washing clothes at home!! Well, hard work and very time consuming!!
    Whoever invented it should have got a Nobel Prize as the improvement in hygiene hence health-medicine has been huge IMHO
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    Mar 27 2011: I think washing machine is the best home gadget ever invented. For people who need to multitask, it is really a gift. It's interesting to note that across all the cultures, washing the laundry is essentially a woman's job. I think it appropriate to call washing machine, a "woman empowerment gadget". It has really helped me to find an extra time. Now the concern is - how to go green?

    I really appreciate the talk.
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    Mar 27 2011: I once gave up a modern sophisticated job and spent a summer picking apples, which is not much different from washing clothes by hand.

    Repetitive menial work in one sense is a great gift. There you are, producing an immediate tangible benefit in direct proportion to the effort you put in. You can be mentally at peace, enjoying the nobility of physical work, blah blah blah.

    And then you snap out of it. Yes, this is great for a few days or months. But the injuries on your hands, the backache, the exhaustion from hard daily exertion under a hot sun, the thought that your life is going to be a hard unrearding slog with no possibility of change in the future, they start to take their toll. You start to think about all the other things you could be doing, imagining the cumulative impact of all that heavy lifting.

    It's easy, from the comfort of a chair, to romanticise the simple lives of the poor and imagine the benefits that 'they' get from honest daily labour. Many of us have had similar short-term experiences which were valuable and worthwhile. But a character-building break from the complexities of modern life is not the same as a lifetime of drudgery and endless slog against overwhelming hardship.

    The poor people I've known generally didn't need to build character, they needed to build wealth. Time is the most precious resource we have, and it should be used wisely to build wealth. Squandering our time on essential but automateable tasks is the worst possible barrier to progress, and this was an excellent talk highlighting one of those 'choke points' in our development.
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    Mar 26 2011: Well,

    first, you're an excellent, very engaging speaker. I hardly ever see someone with the passion like you have.

    The second thing is that I really liked your speech. I mean - it wasn't 100% serious but it doesn't have to be. The washing machine is a great leading theme and at the same time pretty unconventional. You presented the topic in a very catchy and surprising way. And the punchline - very funny. I loved it.

    However, I have an impression that you could have done it with more of an insight. It was rather short and you just gave the audience a quick draft of what is going on. I wish I could see you developing the topic, giving more information, statistics (I know you're good at it ;). I'd be very curious to see a modified, longer version of "the magic washing machine".
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    Amy Li

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    Mar 26 2011: Hans, you are my favourite speaker. Love your talks. I agree with you on this one too. I have always thought the washing machine is as great an invention as democracy. There is no point romanticizing tedious toils that keep people, especially women, from more creative and satisfying activities. Those who want to hand wash everything can still do so. However, at least now we have an option.

    How people use their free time is their own choice. Those who spend too much time in front of TV are yet to learn the art of using leisure. Again, at least now we have this leisure. It makes higher pursuit possible.
  • Mar 25 2011: i have the memory of watching my mother and grandmother work with an old Speedqueen washer in our basement when I was young. they used a stick (or short forked pole) to move the loads of laundry. I didn't get involved, it was hard work and I was a youngster. I also recall the stretching of the clothesline in the back yard. we had several vertical poles with a horizontal beam holding clips for the line. On the other end, the house had the same clips attached. Once the wet laundry had been put through the machines rollers, it was 'ready' to be carried upstairs and hung (when the weather was good) on the line with wooden clips. I could aid in this when I could reach the line. I recall often asking my mother why we couldn't get the spring-loaded clips instead of the wedge type clothespins we used - I was told the spring-loaded clips (were too fancy) and besides they cost more!

    I have another memory of watching women - I saw no men doing this work - as they washed their laundry in the river in Mexico. I merely assume they had no other choice. I didn't see a worthwhile conclave of women there. I saw a group of poor women having to do the necessary work for their family. There was no sharing of expertise or advice being given - just backbreaking labor.

    My mother and grandmother were working hard even though they could work within their own residence. They were thrilled when they could get automatic machines - they never again dried laundry outdoors - they had done too much work for too many years. Somehow I think those Mexican women would have welcomed a respite from their hard work.
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    Mar 22 2011: In a similar order of perspective, about the contemporary social advantage of sharing some tedious worktime, my wife and I expelled our washing up machine from our kitchen in order to have the kids do the washing up by hand. (after clearing up the table).

    The objectives were:
    - to have them share some time managing hand labour
    - to have them learn to do at least one thing usefull for the household community
    - teambuilding (four boys 2+2, alternately two teams, changing)
    - to have them learn to do at least one thing perfectely
    - to have them know we aren't the servants
    - to have a provocative subject of conversation while watching our friends fill up their own washing up machine after dinner.

    Conclusion, in the own boys' mouth:

    They agree that there is an existential reward to find balance between

    - what used to be an alienating, time consuming, manual domestic task

    and

    - what they now understand as an experience about maintaining a material connection with domestic reality and social collaboration.

    And they are proud about it.
  • Mar 21 2011: Professor Rosling,

    Thanks again for another informative and inspiring lecture! I’ve been a big fan of your data visualizations ever since watching your earliest TED lecture several years ago.

    Can you recommend other good data visualization and interactive sites to better understand topics such as global energy uses and sources or total food consumption and production, among many other topics? It would be a great learning tool to be able to see such top-level data and then drill down by country or GDP-levels in a fully interactive way such as Gapminder. I know of some good static sites (www.nationmaster.com) with excellent data but has anyone put together the kinds of interactive visualizations on these data as you have with health and GDP (and other metrics)?

    On a side note, I taught as a volunteer in a rural Kenyan high school over 20 years ago and I can tell you that my absolute least favorite activity was washing clothing. I always ended up spending the better part of the day on this activity and more often than not had bloody fingertips by the time I was finished. And I was just washing for one!
  • Mar 21 2011: I really enjoyed the talk, thank you.
    Two points: green power from hydro-electric projects comes at a huge cost to the environment and to tribal peoples, for example, the destruction of biodiversity hotspot in the Teesta Valley, Sikkim, and the destruction of UN scheduled protected land belonging to Lepcha and other people. How to measure this destruction to immediate and heritage environments, and to convey this information in a way that might raise awareness to effect mitigation of this technology's blind-spots? Is this destruction-factor considered in the 'units' of fuel use you used in the talk?
    Also, a point well made, about those at the top of consumer use telling those below what/how to do it. This hubris/ignorance even happens in developed communities - 'we need to stop spending so much on consumer goods' is irrelevant and ignorant rhetoric to the low-income family down the street who cannot keep up with the cost of buying children's shoes, and who can never afford to run a car. It divides communities in many ways, not least from sharing strategies for change and empowerment. Whilst your talk raised this issue pointedly for debate, do you have any further comment regarding ways forward? Thank you
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      Mar 21 2011: Lucy,
      You are right, dams comes at a big costs for those that lived in the valley, and they must be rightly compensated. Dams not built also come at a big cost to those that will miss the electricity in the coming decades. That electricity is capable of doing so much good to the millions of poor households in that part of the Indian sub continent so it will probably be better for the humans to build the dam. The alternative for the coming decades is probably one more nuclear power station, but that will have many long term costs and risks. So do you know of any alternative that can produce the same amount of electricity per dollar invested. India does not have that many dollars so they must really look at the cost effectiveness in producing electricity.
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    Mar 21 2011: Dear Sir Hans other question popped up in my mind is , in your moms case she used her time freed. by washing machine for reading, but happening now , how many hours actually we are spending in reading or other productive reasons now a days because of those time freed up by washing machine?
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      Mar 21 2011: Hi Salim,
      If you would add some hours of hand-washing each week, what would you stop doing?
      I know, if I had not loaded the washing machine three times during the weekend I would not be writing on this TED conversation.
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      Mar 21 2011: I do research to improving transportation systems. After one talk, where I exposed a method where public transport efficiency could be improved considerably, saving millions of human-hours, a philosopher asked: "More hours of what? Of crime? Of hatred?". I guess it is up to each individual what to do with his/her free time, but technology gives us the FREEDOM to choose what we want to do with our time, be it reading books or watching soap operas. I believe that this freedom is worth fighting for.
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    Mar 28 2011: Your Talks are among my short list of brilliant talks. You are wonderful. I am grafetful.
  • Mar 27 2011: Dear Dr. Rosling,
    I have enjoyed all your talks on TED.
    The magic washing machine was a very creative presentation. I really admire the "art" in the way you explain science. I am from India an I am doing a PhD in biofuels in Australia. Some of the concepts you explained in this presentation such as the use of energy all over the world are very difficult to explain. But you make it really simple to understand for everyone. The crux of this story lies in the gross inequality that we have failed to acknowledge. Not just the West but also the wealthy East.
    The attitude towards poverty and implementation of human rights is apathetic at least in my home country. People have been desensitized.
    So thank you for revisiting it for us.
    Cheers
    Saee
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    Mar 26 2011: Hans, you are brilliant at bringing what matters into the development discussion.

    It's remarkable how quickly cultures forget where they came from, or how they got there.

    Consider the development of electricity in the rural United States. In 1935, more than 90% of rural families in Europe had easy access to electricity. In the US, half of the country's population was still rural, and less than 10% of the rural families in the US (essentially none of them in the Western and Southern US) had access to electricity. The only thing that changed that situation was a commitment by the US government (like the commitments European governments had made more than a generation before) to make affordable electricity a basic right of every citizen, and to actively commit the resources to make it happen. This happened in living memory, and washing machines were one of the first things that rural families bought. My own parents and grandparents told me stories identical to the one that Hans tells here.

    Lights, pumps, and washing machines for everybody changed the face of America in less than a generation, and when you look at the contemporary descriptions of what a washing machine meant to a rural American family in the 1930's, it is striking how similar they are to what Hans describes as the promise for developing nations today.

    We can romanticize washing clothes by hand. We can blithely assert that capitalism, by definition, is infallible and that the problem is with "those people". We can certainly come up with a way to get basic appliances into the hands of every family that doesn't require billions of energy pigs sitting in billions of isolated homes across the globe, or require developing countries to repeat the infrastructure mistakes of the developed world. But Rosling's core point - appliances that liberate time, liberate people - is spot on.
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    Mar 26 2011: As engaging a speaker you are, I don't think your example was very profound.

    You fail to recognize that in these lesser developed countries, people wash their clothes MUCH less often. It is a modern western practice to wear clothes only once or twice before throwing it in the dirty bin. The truth is, these people often don't wash their clothes for MONTHS.

    I also think your tone tries too hard at emotionally triggering a guilt response. "If only us energy hoarders gave these poor people washing machines they'd have time to read books and learn." You don't mention the electricity, water and plumbing, infrastructure, and stable government required to have these luxuries such as a washing machine.

    Although your statistics are interesting and engaging, you make it seem like a bell curve of energy consumption is unnatural and ethically wrong. The result of capitalism is of course a very uneven distribution, but it helps everyone raise their standard of living. These underdeveloped countries are not struggling, they have absurdly high birth rates because of our ability to provide them with the food to keep exploding in population. And if you're going to use an example to demonstrate improvements in standards of living, at least pick something like agriculture that actually makes sense.
    • Mar 26 2011: Having spent a part of my life in that income group I can give you first hand knowledge of washing habits of that group. They do wash their clothes , almost every day ( unless youridea of that population is beggers and road squatters). With meagre supply of soap and water, normally cleaning efficiency is achived with vigorour rubbing or beating the cloth on a plank in villages or a slab in urban area. What would enlighten their life would be a communal washing machine with an affordable charge.

      It is a wonderful example and I appreciate Hans for selecting this indicator which is practical, understandable and to which most of the people can relate to.
      • P C

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        Mar 27 2011: This is the third time I posted this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Le85KjalzwM&feature=watch_response_rev

        That is a link to a bicycle powered washing machine, made from two large drum barrels, and pipes. I'm sure a village could put together a few of these and save those who hand wash a full day of hard work. Now if they were to add a bicycle powered cart or wheel-barrow, they could bring their clean and wet clothes back home, and hang them to dry.

        If you check other videos posted by the same people, you'll see one where they could use bicycle-powered machines that can do other things. Best thing of all, it only costs as much as a bicycle; no need for a super-expensive engineering project that bankrupts the country and that puts several generations into wage slavery, and that only benefits the elite of their country.

        When Americans look back at their history, the greatest invention of all time wasn't something powered by steam or electricity, it was a simple machine that sped up our ability to remove seeds out of cotton. Teach people how to develop competency with simple machines and then let them build on that knowledge.
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      Mar 27 2011: You forget that people tend to have fewer babies as their standard of living rises.
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    Mar 26 2011: Hi Hans
    I agree with you wash machine and other tools save a lot of time
    but we should also warn people to stay away from machines which steal our saved
    Time Like T.V
    let us assume wash mahine save 3 hours and T.V steal 7 hours
    wash mahine +TV= -4 hours
    studies show that average Americain spend 6-7 hours daily in front of T.V what a waste of time
    Not all the people use the wash time in reading and usefull staff
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    Mar 25 2011: I love your work, research, and what you have done for presenting land. Thank you so much!

    As for the washing machine – you would not have needed it. You are a master story teller. You have the words, the energy, the belief.

    I am getting a little afraid that you might feel pushed to invent ever more dramatic acts on stage.
    Please don’t.

    You *are* the story.

    As for the content, it was such an important talk.

    Even though, at the end, I felt: Yes. Electricity makes time for reading. Electricity frees us.

    But how many household machines, toys and gadgets do we really need?
    Where does freedom start, luxury begin, and environmental responsibility end?

    Do we really need washer-dryer combos, waffle irons and electric curlers?
    Who needs to step up? Who needs to cut down? Those were my questions.
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    Mar 24 2011: I really enjoyed this talk :) Regarding the ending on how this will effect sustainability, in TIME magazine's list of 50 best inventions of 2010, an almost waterless washing machine was featured (http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2029497_2030623_2029701,00.html). I have a strong feeling that this technology will spread fast as soon as it becomes more accessible because it is green without forcing people to change their lifestyles. I think this is the key. You are completely right in that people are always looking to increase their quality of life. The "light-bulb" population is always looking to become part of the "washer" population, and the "washer" population is always looking to become the "airline" population. The "airline" population also is the most consumption oriented. Though many in this population are looking to be green, rarely will they do so if it means compromising their lifestyle. You said so yourself, even the greenest of the environmental activists use a washing machine. Therefore, I predict that more and more inventions such as the almost waterless washing machine will be invented. We must hope that this prediction comes true for the sustainability of our world.
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      Mar 24 2011: See my comment above about an almost waterless washing machine. I completely agree with your notion that technology such as washing machines require resources that are not always viable to spread. Therefore, I think that technology will adapt such that it will work without the resources (water in this case).
  • Mar 24 2011: This was a terrific talk. It framed our global conundrum of development versus resources and environment extremely well. The same kind of revolutionary innovation that freed your grandmother and 2 billion others to read and think and move over the "wash line" can occur again, but it will look different. The next innovation must not only free intellect and time, but also use a fraction of the resources and have a fraction of the environmental impacts. The washing machine helped get us here, but it will not get 7 billion people across the "wash line." Yet that doesn't mean we can't have clean clothes, continue development, and protect our environment.

    Here’s an important distinction: it wasn’t the washing machine - the physical object itself - that freed 2 billion women’s intellect and time (which could then be reinvested in solving problems). It was the washing machine’s function: cleaning clothes with less labor.

    The future must be defined by design that delivers drastically more function (in this case, clean clothes) with drastically less resource mass (fewer tons of fuel, water, and materials). Innovation in resource performance, or dMass, will make it possible to get or keep clothes clean with little water or electricity, perhaps without a washing machine at all. This is not just a question of conservation, it is the nanotech and biotech design revolution. We are already beginning to see clothing that requires much less washing and washing machines that require a fraction of the energy and water; but this is just a scratch on the surface of what we can and must do.
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    Mar 24 2011: I find it interesting that no one yet has mentioned the deep connection between this talk and one that Prof. Rosling gave a while back on the direct connection between lowered infant mortality which lowers family size and both of which are kickstarted by getting girls into school. In that talk, he showed how quickly infant mortality dropped (and family size right along with it) a generation after girls began going to school in large numbers. Prof Rosling doesn't mention it specifically in this talk, but am I right in thinking that washing machines came along at about the same time? Am I correct in thinking that the amount of time washing machines saved in girls' and womens' lived directly affected their being able to leave the home for a significant amount of time each day to go to school? If that is so, then washing machines could have an indirect impact on world population.

    By way of anecdotal evidence for Prof Rosling's point that poor women do not find hand-washing laundry to be a beautiful, social Zen experience, I am reminded of the Amish women of the small Indiana town I used to live in when I taught German. Laundry hung out on lines, yes... but very often washed in the washing machines at the laundromat in town;-) (I also used to see them, mother and 4 or 5 kids in the horse and wagon, in the drive-thru at McDonald's-- one of my cherished memories of living in that town...)
  • Mar 24 2011: Your glib, though more than half-serious, comment about the steel industry and the chemical industry at the end makes a good point, but you know, as I know, that they are problematic industries especially when their steel and chemicals are used for the activities of the rich (as defined in your show). It is critical that this debate not be reduced to a battle the well-meaning, naïve Luddite students versus the captains of progress--"Live Better Electrically" (GE); "Better Living Through Chemicals"; etc. These old mottoes purposely mis-characterized the dilemma that we face in order to sell product.

    I would really like to work with you for a couple months to develop a TED Talk or some other forum for getting people engaged in this conversation about priorities, perhaps at the Aspen Institute, to explain why people should have washing machines and why they should not have tumble dryers. I am writing a book called More Time to Hang: Greening America's Dirty Laundry. Your assistance in assembling compelling stats would be invaluable.

    There is evidence that using your hands in reward-driven work is stimulating to the receptors in the brain that fight depression. Using the body in light work is actually good for it. (This desk jockey can attest to the stiffness of his limbs and weakness of his major muscle groups because he he ironically spends too much time staring into this machine.) By using a dryer, clothes wear out faster and your rob yourself of needed sunlight, which, if the clothes are hanging outside, can actually disinfect and kill dust mites. The stats about dryer-caused house fires are astounding. (Has anybody studied the GHG emissions of structure fires?)
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      Mar 24 2011: I live in Japan, and I've written about that very thing-- how unnecessary (most of the time) dryers are. They are expensive to run, in hot weather can actually take *longer* to dry clothes, and they shrink sleeves and pantlegs in addition (as you note) to generally wearing out your clothes. It's the washer that is the real time and labor saver-- not the dryer. Especially the spin cycle-- have you ever wrung water out of jeans? Without the spin cycle they take an eternity to dry. I've seen this topic discussed on personal finance sites as well-- with American commenters all worried about what the neighbors would think about laundry drying outside, and Europeans and Asians scratching their heads over the weird Americans wasting electricity when thing dry just fine outside. As I noted in my blog post ( http://yokohamayomama.blogspot.com/2011/02/on-design-laundry-hangers.html) on my beloved Japanese laundry hangers, when the weather is nice, hanging the laundry out to dry is one of the more pleasant household chores. Honestly, in states like California which have experienced severe energy crunches, I don't understand why outdoor drying lines aren't more prevalent (or even mandatory).
  • Mar 24 2011: I loved it, professor.
    This could probably be expanded to include quite a bit of technology as helping people get time. You brought up some very good points.
  • Mar 23 2011: Professor,

    I loved the delivery, always very capturing and inspiring. I hope your prediction comes true. By 2050, there may be a new "Space Travel Line" where the richest (or, most elite) group abandons Earth, leaving the mess behind.

    Best,
    Anthony
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    Mar 23 2011: First, Dr. Rosling is using a strawman argument. Western environmentalists are not against people in the developing world from having any particular technology. The issue is over negative externalities and how western economies often try to separate social costs from transaction costs. Electric washing machines are not technologies that can function alone, they require a whole ecosystem of other technologies to make them work, which in turn can be very damaging to cultures and ecosystems.

    Second, if there were non-electric based washing machines available, green-conscious consumers would buy them. If some entrepreneur wanted to make a quieter version of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Le85KjalzwM&feature=watch_response_rev, I'm sure a lot of people would want one. A small village could pool together its resources to buy one or two of these. They need to make sure that they don't use harsh detergent soaps if they plan to take the water from a public source that other people use.

    Third, if we combine other similar innovative approaches, we can give people in non-industrialized countries a high quality of life without using such destructive methods. Such as the clay jar refrigerator, solar thermal cooking, and more. The great thing about developing nations is that they can leap frog the industrial period and lead the green technology revolution.
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    Mar 23 2011: There are other important machines in home, refrigarator, stove, TV among others, each one changes your relation with the world.
    I have study the impact of the machines in the last 12 years, I have a classification of them and their impact. It is not juts a matter of energy is a matter of cosmovision, of consciousness of the world. For example the MAMACHINEs the one that substitute the work of mothers, all of them give time to the mothers but in the other hand lose the thights of the familiy if the time gain is not spend with the family. By the way the mother of all machines is the one who handles the time: the clock
  • Mar 23 2011: Thank you for pointing this out to the world. There seems to be a new Western arrogance about us, this time around it is not us telling the developing world they should live like us, like in colonial times, this time around we are telling they should not want to live like us. We romanticize their way of life, from our comfortable houses and state that they should preserve their rainforests, although that probably means that their economies don't progress as fast as is possible.
    We should not scholar developing nations in what they should prioritize, but look at ourselves, we should accept that we will use more energy each year, as we have done for centuries already, even when efficiency takes a leap forward and focus on solar energy to dramatically decrease our environmental impact. So that within 20 years all our energy comes from the sun.