Wednesday, April 11, 2012

One billion dollars.

One billion dollars.

If you are anything like me, or the other folks I work with, you most likely just read the title of this post with a Dr. Evil accent. I would like to think thats how it ran through the mind of Mark Zuckerberg recently when he decided to purchase the company instagram for exactly the same amount. $1,000,000,000 for a company with no profits, no revenue, and less than two dozen employees. A billion is a hard number to wrap one's mind around. It typically only comes up in conversation when discussing corporate profits or debating the finer points of government deficits. So what is a billion dollars?

The world population as of 2010 was beginning to close in on 7 billion humans. Only about 300 million of them live here in the US. But approx 1 billion occupy a continent just across the atlantic; Africa. Here in the US about 78 percent of people have internet access allowing them to join us in musing about the concept of a billion dollars. In Africa it is closer to 10 percent. About half of them live on less than one  dollar a day and about a third will go to bed hungry tonight. In the US the per capita income is $40,000. World wide approx 1 in 7 people go hungry every day, which conveniently enough, turns out to be approx One Billion.

A lot of numbers to toss around in your head, but still just numbers. You may feel outrage at the idea of a company with almost no tangible value selling for 1 billion dollars while a billion people across the globe go hungry. This outrage has no tangible basis, outrage at a number Many of us work for corporations with similarly outlandish monetary values. None of us actually ever see millions in cash being carried in or out of our offices, stores, or job sites. Almost no one reading this blog post has ever seen, met, or spoken to anyone living in Africa let alone encountered hunger on a personal level.

1 Billion. Enough money to double the per capita income of most of africa. A small connection. Maybe just enough to bridge the gap between us and them. What would it mean to you if your income doubled tomorrow? How much more would it mean if your children had been starving the day before? One Billion is a meaningless number to a woman in africa, but one dollar, one dollar would be worth killing for.

Numbers are a queer business. We probably see Billions of them in our lifetimes. Finances, math classes, election results, sports scores, weather reports; numbers poor into our lives at a steady and endless rate. With the advent of smartphones we all travel about with tiny computers in our pockets pouring digits into our hands and sometimes overwhelming us mentally and emotionally. Although, typically we manage, we are used to most of the quantities we encounter in our day to day lives. Repetition and the human races unique ability to catalog and sort through the endless amount of data in our lives have made us almost immune to most large numbers. Now with a 7 billion plus people roaming the earth, maybe we’ll soon learn to cope with the idea of a Billion. Maybe we’ll even learn how to use it.


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