Hans Rosling’s Washing Machine Video Essay

Hans Rosling’s Washing Machine Video

Rosling presents a video that is part humor, part social studies, and part practical application for the viewers. His ultimate and salient point seems to be how technology has helped to change the social status of women, but in fact he is making a moral and sociological argument as well; and he arrives at his point with an audience’s laughter in the background.

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The Washing Machine Revolution

By bringing a grandmother into the video Rosling is providing a perspective for his audience. After all, her whole life grandmother has been washing clothes by hand, after first heating water over a wood-burning stove. The primitive clothes-washing strategy grandma is familiar with juxtaposes dramatically with the white machine that does all that for the mother or grandmother. When grandmother asks to be the one to push the “start” button on the machine, she is literally and figuratively taking a giant leap forward like astronaut’s “giant leap for mankind” when he stepped onto the surface of the moon.

“To my grandmother the washing machine was a miracle,” Rosling explains enthusiastically. Once he clearly establishes what a grand breakthrough the washing machine represents for his grandmother in Sweden, he quickly points out that there are many people on earth who don’t have machines like this one. Many people (millions of people) still heat water over a wood fire, and not only to millions of people heat water primitively, those same people don’t have all the other technological devices that households in the industrial world enjoy, like computers and televisions and stoves and power tools and air conditioners.

“Two billion people live on less than two dollars a day,” he explains, moving the conversation from the miracle of technology (and how that helps women provide for their families) to the fact of poverty and human struggles for sustainability. By Rosling’s math, five billion women wash clothes by hand, and some have to bring water from nearby lakes and rivers in order to do their washing. Rosling is making a philosophical, sociological, and moral argument here. He points out through his charts that one-seventh of the world’s population (those that are the wealthiest) uses six (one-half) of the twelve available units of energy in the world (coal, gas, oil), while people with just a washing machine (and not many other technological tools) use just 2 units. That leaves 4 units for Rosling’s math; those are divided among the very poor and those who have just a little.

By 2050, Rosling posits, the very wealthy will still use the greatest amount of energy units. But at some point the rich individuals must begin to use green energy, renewable energy, so they are not basically hogging the only available traditional energy.

Rosling draws laughter when he asserts that until the richest people on the planet learn responsible use of energy units, they shouldn’t be telling other cultures what to do. In other words, those with the highest incomes who enjoy non-renewable energy should not be passing judgment on third world countries in terms of the need to cut back on the production of greenhouse gases (through burning coal, oil, etc.).

In conclusion, Rosling’s presentation is powerful because he breaks everything down to the simplest of concepts; if the woman has a washing machine, she has more time to herself, she can read, she can read to her children, she can study languages and she now has the time to improve her life. At the end of the presentation Rosling’s mother thanks the power stations for providing electricity, she thanks the steel mills for producing the materials for the washing machine. He is pointing out all the applications that went into producing the machine. And, he added, “Thank you chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books.” His two most important points: a) technology frees the woman from drudgery of hand washing clothes and frees her up to better herself and her family; and b) the world needs to create renewable energy sources so in the sense of economic fairness and social justice, all people in all countries have that resource, not just the wealthiest citizens.

Works Cited

Rosling, Hans. Hans Rosling and the magic washing machine. Gapminder.

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