Capitalism: Working for You

updated the arrows to better reflect the consumer’s dominant position

In addition to the two amazing courses I’m taking for credit this semester, Intro to Civic Media (with Sasha Costanza-Chock) and Tangible Interfaces with Hiroshi Ishii, I’m auditing a class on Systems Visualization. The quick explanation is that it’s Infographics 101. But really it’s how to design visualizations that elegantly display complicated systems (the US healthcare system, climate change, the universe itself, and so on), with all of their inputs, outputs, controllers and disrupters.

Our professor, VA Shiva (who also happened to copyright email when he was 16), created a nice little cartoon visualizing the ecosystem of the modern man:

MIT Tech TV

In the cartoon, a man is watching TV. The man eats at McDonald’s, so he has heart problems, but fortunately he watches his Comcast-provided cable channels and sees a commercial for Lipitor. He pays for his McDonald’s, Comcast, and pharmaceuticals with the money saved in his Bank of America account (which only costs $6 a month!). By visualizing this cocoon of consumerism, we can see how the companies benefit from his existence. Things get particularly interesting when we look at the exchanges between these conglomerates, such as when Pfizer pays Comcast to advertise to the man even as the man is paying Comcast to watch the advertisements.

Our first visual assignment was to rework this example from a different angle. I chose to have a little fun with it, and create a systems visualization where the individual him or herself is the dominant player in the system (as represented by vertical placement). These companies, and the hundreds of thousands of people they employ, work all the live-long day to provide products and services carefully designed to meet the individual’s every need or desire (hunger, health, entertainment, etc.):

Systems visualization of the benefits major corporations provide to individuals

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