TCS News Break: Viral Emails Communicate Stereotypes

January 16th, 2012 | Categories: Stereotypes in General

Viral emails are cute, funny, and interesting . . . ways to communicate stereotypes.

Consider the famous example below.

If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following:

57 Asians
21 Europeans
14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
8 Africans

52 would be female
48 would be male

70 would be non-white
30 would be white

70 would be non Christian
30 would be Christian

89 would be heterosexual
11 would be homosexual

6 people would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth and all 6 would be from the United States

80 would live in substandard housing

70 would be unable to read

50 would suffer from malnutrition

1 would be near death – 1 would be near birth

1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education

1 would own a computer

When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for both acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent.

Presumably this viral email is intended to demonstrate the privilege certain groups have over others, a common theme on TCS. The last statistic of “1 would own a computer” is particularly poignant because it appeals to everyone who would be receiving the message. In other words, that person receiving the viral email is essentially that one person who owns a computer.

Although the intent may be lofty, the statistics are not necessarily based in research. As a result, the viral email communicates the stereotype, implicitly, that the majority of the world is comprised of underprivileged, uneducated, and illiterate people. Consider the following critiques and corrections that other writers have offered about this particular viral email.

Aisle of Man

The World As A Hundred People

Please Don’t Forward This Email

The viral email persuades its recipient to believe that he or she is the one person who owns a computer (in this micro-world) and, in doing so, reinforces that person as privileged uniquely. That privilege is in diametric opposition to all of those other poor souls (the 99) who are not as advanced. The privilege, then, in the final sentence of the viral email, invites pity.

Ironically, it invites pity through the same things that it opposes in its own action: “acceptance, understanding and education.” Computers, for example, are implied as valuable (think supply/ demand) suggesting a lack of acceptance and understanding for other cultures who do not value computers. In other words, the viral email reinforces western values of technological advancement as the norm. Those cultures who do not have this (even if they do not want this) are to be pitied.

So consider this post the next time you want to forward a viral email because it is cute, funny, and interesting. In doing so you may be communicating stereotypes.

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  1. Frances A. Shea
    January 24th, 2012 at 21:04

    Didn’t quite look at the world with those figures. Very interesting indeed!

  2. Nicole Brodbeck
    February 22nd, 2012 at 20:10

    This viral email definitely goes to show how people in the world take so many things for granted. In my college level Communications class we are learning about standpoint theory and how people see themselves in society. Some believed that they may not be privileged but in reality really are compared to the rest of society. Just 1 out of 100 people in that group would have and computer and have a college education, while the other 99 would be uneducated and without technology. For me I know it is very strange to not have a computer because that is how most of us communicate now a days and to be without one would be really hard in todays society. It just goes to show how some people view themselves according to today’s world rather then looking at the bigger picture and realizing that they are too privileged individuals.

  3. Andrea
    February 24th, 2012 at 00:45

    As I read this viral email I was thinking to myself that it shows that exact opposite of the majority minority arguments of America. The larger percentages are of minorities and the smaller percentages. To me the email is saying that societies “privileged” people take up less than the majority of people who are of religions, genders, sexualities, etc. I also believe this viral email illustrates that everyone is different, and there are more differences in the world, and we should be more accepting as a society. I also realize that I am in the percentages that usually are considered privileged. From my standpoint, this has to do with my location, and region of upbringing, America, where everything is easier to obtain and my characteristics are considered the majority. Therefore, it is easier for me to be considered privileged.

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