The magic of washing machines- put in dirty clothes & out comes books says Hans Rosling

Creative Commons licensed on Flickr by: Ovi Gherman

“I was only four years old when I saw my mother load a washing machine for the very first time in her life. That was a great day for my mother. My mother and father had been saving money for years to be able to buy that machine, and the first day it was going to be used, even Grandma was invited to see the machine. And Grandma was even more excited. Throughout her life she had been heating water with firewood, and she had hand washed laundry for seven children. And now she was going to watch electricity do that work.”

This is how Hans Rosling opens his TED talk. As TED says “in Hans Rosling’s hands, data sings. Global trends in health and economics come to vivid life. And the big picture of global development—with some surprisingly good news—snaps into sharp focus.”

I like his TED talk because it reminded me of a feisty pig that I came close to killing (more about that in a bit) and because it’s a great study in perspective.

He goes on to say…

“But when I lecture to environmentally-concerned students, they tell me, “No, everybody in the world cannot have cars and washing machines.” How can we tell this woman that she ain’t going to have a washing machine? And then I ask my students, I’ve asked them — over the last two years I’ve asked, “How many of you doesn’t use a car?” And some of them proudly raise their hand and say, “I don’t use a car.” And then I put the really tough question: “How many of you hand-wash your jeans and your bed sheets?” And no one raised their hand. Even the hardcore in the green movement use washing machines.

My favourite part of his perspective changing talk is when he talks about what washing machines really give you, what magic they evoke.

“And what’s the magic with them? My mother explained the magic with this machine the very, very first day. She said, “Now Hans, we have loaded the laundry. The machine will make the work. And now we can go to the library.” Because this is the magic: you load the laundry, and what do you get out of the machine? You get books out of the machines, children’s books. And mother got time to read for me. She loved this. I got the “ABC’s” — this is where I started my career as a professor, when my mother had time to read for me. And she also got books for herself. She managed to study English and learn that as a foreign language. And she read so many novels, so many different novels here. And we really, we really loved this machine.

And what we said, my mother and me, “Thank you industrialization. Thank you steel mill. Thank you power station. And thank you chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books.”

And what does this have to do with killing a pig? I once lived in a tiny, rural, indigenous village in Mexico where I washed my family’s clothes by hand. This was made even more challenging because I had a feisty, active toddler at the time who I corralled with my hip on the ledge of the water reservoir while I hand washed the clothes.

After one particularly hot dusty afternoon, I noticed that the family’s pig had torn my newly washed clothes down from the clothesline & had dragged them through the mud.

We almost had pork for dinner that night.

And that’s my perspective. What’s yours?

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One Response to The magic of washing machines- put in dirty clothes & out comes books says Hans Rosling

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