A Great Summer Read: Factfulness by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund

I want to begin by expressing my sincere thanks to the author trio for reminding us to be more critical about every information that enters our brain. Easy access to information has its upsides and downsides, after all. We live in a time when being analytical means being resourceful, being a bit skeptical is rather useful and hope acts as a fuel for motivating us to make better what can be improved.

I particularly love how the book introduces its terminology. It describes four levels, which each corresponds to the average income level of a country’s population per person, including with how many people on Earth living on the respective income level:

  • Level 1: 1 USD/day (1 billion people)
  • Level 2: 4 USD/day (3 billion people)
  • Level 3: 16 USD/day (2 billion people)
  • Level 4: 32 USD/day (1 billion people)

I think that it is a much-needed replacement for the jaded terms “developed countries” and “developing countries”. Some countries have indeed achieved a great feat by making their total population reach the highest income level, while others haven´t been able to realize the same achievement nationwide. Yet this does not mean that they are not trying to catch up. Furthermore, it is essential to note that people living on the same income level have remarkably similar circumstances regardless of countries. And that level 4 seems to be what most humans aim for, again, irrespective of country and even other factors often attached to it such as culture, religion, skin color, you name it.

Like it or not, a strong economy is what supports our survival in today’s standard, and hence what marks success (“marks“, NOT “is equal to“). I think that this is far from ideal, but it is what it is. Striving for success regardless of how one defines it, I believe, is what we humans have in common. Forgetting this leads us to think that we are more different than we are. Now, how the desire to reach success translates into our behavior is what I think we need to pay most of our attention to. Do we hurt others along the way? Do we use methods that aren´t benefiting others but for us alone? How do we achieve our means without negatively impacting the environment and our fellow humans? Food for thoughts.

Anyhow, the book shares the different meanings of “Factfulness” and ways in which we could be more “Factful”. I´ve listed out three of the ten definitions the book has provided, which I notice myself often miss if not being reminded by this book:

  • Factfulness is recognizing when a story talks about a gap

I find it easy to find news that tries to paint a picture of two separate groups with a gap in between. The majority of people, though, are right in the middle where the gap is. Example: people living on level 2 and 3 are more than 3-folds higher in number than those living on level 1 and 4 combined. What we are often exposed to, however (namely through media), are the disparaging differences between level 1 and 4. This creates the perception that the people of the world either live in two very polarizing conditions: they either have a very good or an awful life.

What to do: look for the majority!

  • Factfulness is recognizing that many things appear to be constant because the change is happening slowly

The world is massive, and there are so many of us. Improved health of a general population in a small city of 200,000 as a result of better healthcare in a country located far from where we live, will probably remain unheard of to us. But it is still an improvement.

What to do: Update your knowledge!

  • Factfulness is recognizing when a lonely number seems impressive (small or large)

I once watched a documentary film made to increase awareness on a particular issue. I noticed how the narration gave me a barrage of information in the form of numbers (in the case of this documentary, a high number indicates something negative) to address the magnitude of a situation, without providing other numbers with which we can compare them. On the one hand, the abundance of huge numbers was effective in drawing my attention to the issue at hand; on the other hand, it made me feel like I was submitted to information overload. The latter, I believe, triggered immediate physical and emotional reactions akin to stress in me, which I felt after watching the documentary film. I don´t know if my responses were those intended by the filmmakers. After all, a real response that can lead to some action is what needed to solve the particular issue. But what I found alarming was how my hope for improvements and a better future where the problem will have been solved started to erode, because I had made the association between the problem and the negative feelings that arose in me.

Wouldn´t it be better to be able to compare numbers as indicators for improvement and/or the worsening of a condition? So that we don´t lose the context of our discussion and risk in taking misguided steps in solving something that has been bothering us.

What to do: Get things in proportion! Compare data (especially in the form of numbers)!

Are you ready to be more factful? What is factfulness to you, and how can you be more factful?

Lulu Riyanti

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *