A matter of Scale: Computational perspectives of accumulation


I just came across an amazing web site: Chris Jordan's Running the Numbers. In his words:

This new series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books.

The question is, can we create an info-vis type tool that lets people put in their own units of items, and then create visuals such as these to show how things accumulate over time?


I am not quite sure how to do this, but I suspect that the work done by Sheelagh on representing individual objects can be used here. People would have to supply images of interesting artifacts, and the algorithm would composite these together.


I envisage a spreadsheet like system where one can enter formula of how things accumulate plus a time factor. One could perhaps:

  • show how this builds up over time through an animation
  • give it lens like properties to blow up details of what is being represented
  • make it comprised of individual objects, each having its own formula of how it accumulates and how it decays
    • for example, a scene can be built from plastic bottles (accumulate at a rate of 1000/sec, decay at a 1/2 life of 5 years), newspapers (accumulate at a rate of 1,000,000 pages / day, decay at a 1/2 life of 1 month), etc.
  • There could be different ways to show the accumulation, as Chris Jordan does n his set.


  • This is likely best viewed as a computational art piece, but it does extend Chris Jordan's notion by adding time, individual objects, and other factors in terms of making statistics come alive.
  • I am not sure how he generated these images.. may be worth finding out.