If Vietnam were your home instead of The United States you would…

I recently came upon this site, which was created last year at first “as a way to show the magnitude of the BP Oil Spill. Through a number of conversations with visitors to the site, we realized that we had stumbled onto a very powerful concept. Representing large facts in relation to a person’s own home is much more revealing than a simpler presentation of facts. From this understanding, the new IfItWereMyHome.com was born. The site acts as a gateway to understanding the world around you.”  It does this not by merely comparing facts and figures but by personalizing them (e.g., If Vietnam were your home instead of The United States, you would be 16.67% less likely to have HIV/AIDS). 

It reminds me of a photo essay book entitled Material World: A Global Family Portrait that compared living standards of people in many countries. Published in commemoration of the United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Family in 1994, it contained portraits of 30 statistically average families with all of their worldly possessions displayed outside their homes, as well as sidebars offering statistics and a brief history for each country and personal notes from the photographers about their experiences.

The Power of Comparison and Context

The site features a comparison of the United States with virtually every country in the world, a superimposition of those countries on a map of the U.S., some basic facts about both countries in predetermined categories, a one-paragraph country overview, recommended readings, and a comments section. Each country profile ends with the question “Would you rather live in _____ (INSERT COUNTRY NAME)?

The map superimposition brings into sharp relief just how small Vietnam is geographically compared to the U.S. It is just a big larger than New Mexico, would take up about half of Texas (population 28% that of Vietnam), and would easily fit into California. This also highlights related issues such as population density (Vietnam: 90 million) and sustainable development.

As Andy Lintner, the website creator, points out, “The lottery of birth is responsible for much of who we are. If you were not born in the country you were, what would your life be like? Would you be the same person? IfItWereMyHome.com is your gateway to understanding life outside your home.”

Vietnam & the United States

The following facts and figures are presented using CIA World Factbook information with the exception of the item about health care (i.e., World Health Organization).

  • have 3.5 times higher chance of dying in infancy
  • consume 95.09% less oil
  • make 93.75% less money
  • use 93.34% less electricity
  • have 68.82% more change at being employed
  • spend 97.75% less money on health care
  • die 6.3 years sooner
  • have 25.02% more babies
  •  experience 17.78% less of a class divide
  • be 16.67% less likely to have HIV/AIDS

Each item has more information accessible with a click of your mouse. For example, for item #2 : Vietnam consumes 0.1296 gallons of oil per day per capita while The United States consumes 2.6400. This entry is the total oil consumed in gallons per day (gal/day) divided by the population. The discrepancy between the amount of oil produced and/or imported and the amount consumed and/or exported is due to the omission of stock changes, refinery gains, and other complicating factors. (Source: CIA World Factbook)

It would be great if the site included information about other important issues (about which reliable information could be obtained), including population, population density, economic growth, inflation, poverty rate, education, corruption, Internet use, media, military expenditures, etc.

Next Steps

It would be helpful to have information that places these facts and figures in some kind of societal and historical context, and enables visitors to connect more of the dots. Why do Vietnamese “have 3.5 times higher chance of dying in infancy” and “consume 95.09% less oil”?  Or, why does the US consume such a large share of the world’s natural resources?  (US Americans constitute 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy.)  Perhaps that’s another website. Answers to these questions are also provided in the recommended readings.

In the case of Vietnam, the reasons are many and varied, including war and its legacy, an economic embargo that ended in 1994, poverty, isolation, mismanagement, corruption, reform, economic growth, foreign direct investment, tax policy, and globalization, among others.

At any rate, the website does an excellent job of driving home the point that “the lottery of birth is responsible for much of who we are. If you were not born in the country you were, what would your life be like?” Country information without comparison and context is not very meaningful.

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