Research: Accidentally Discovering What You Didn’t Know

When Anna Rosling Ronnland talked to students who lived in Sweden, she asked them where they thought that the fit on a global scale?  Were they rich? Were they poor?  Or were they somewhere in the middle?  She was surprised to discover that they thought they were somewhere in the middle – not rich but not terribly poor.  (You can view her TEDD talk below.)

Ronnland realized that the perspective most people have has been skewed by what they see on media – natural disasters, horrible diseases and war often give a view of the poorest areas.   Beautiful vacation destinations and wildlife showed what was accessible to the very rich.

But what most of these students didn’t realize is that they were actually on the wealthy end of the global scale.  Media had skewed their perspective.

To help correct this, Ronnland created Dollar Street.  This site imagines the world as a street.  The poor live at one end.  The wealthy live at the other.  Everyone else is somewhere in the middle.  She sent photographers out to take photos of common things in homes throughout the world.  They take photos of bedrooms and bathrooms, where food is prepared and where it is eaten.

What Ronnland, and those who view the photos on Dollar Street, soon discovered was that in addition to material life based on culture, economics may actually play a stronger role.  Food preparation for the poorest people looks much the same in the Americas, Africa and Asia.  View the bedrooms of the wealthy and they look much the same.

This has me contemplating how we set our characters up to discover things.  We always portray confusion when someone moves from one culture to another.  And certainly language and customs will vary.  But there seems to be just as much variety from one economic level to another.  Maybe Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper wasn’t that far off.

Just a little something to consider as you craft your stories.  I know I have a new story idea thanks to watching the video.


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