Like many of us, web artist Dan Motzenbecker sees large numbers as total abstractions. Try to imagine mathematical infinity tied to the physical reality of the universe and your mind will likely crash. But Motzenbecker thinks financial wealth has the potential to make huge numbers more tangible. In his latest project Gilded Gauge, he allows the site’s users to measure their personal wealth against that of billionaires.
“I started experimenting with ways to visually present huge sums in the viewer’s own terms,” Motzenbecker tells The Creators Project. “Time is a simple analogy and a universal metric since we all share the same general lifespan. It’s a unique perspective when you see a timeline that shows the present day being far closer to the Fall of Rome than to the year in the far future when you will have saved up a billionaire's equivalent of $20 on the global median income.”
For instance, if a user's net worth is $45,000, when they spend $50 they are able to buy modest necessities like food and beverages, or luxuries like books and cosmetics. This expenditure is the equivalent of Wal-Mart billionaire Jim Walton spending $37,333,33—the equivalent of 696 years of median US household income or 3,836 years of global household income. And Walton can use that for all sorts of luxuries. For both sides, Motzenbecker uses emojis that rain down from the top of the page to represent these necessities and luxuries.
“I also wanted to use emoji since they’re this new universal hieroglyphics system,” he adds. “Everyone understands emoji and everyone understands commodities. Intersecting the two starts to foster some familiarity and adds some weird levity to the whole thing.” Motzenbecker wrote Gilded Gauge in the Clojure programming language, a dialect of Lisp, which is a language from the late 50s. The full source code is online over at Github.
“In the end I totally recognize the methodology is simplistic and rough,” says Motzenbecker. “But I think the experiment delivers on making something very abstract more tangible without added context or commentary.”
To learn more about Dan Motzenbecker’s work click here.