Parsing what millions of something means in real life

The following story is a fascinating example of large numbers. What happens when you have A LOT-LOT of something.

Ernie Smith of tweeted:

How we got rid of expired coupons in the 1950s, when nobody cared about recycling: First we burned them, then we flushed them down the sewer, then we brought them to the dump.
(From a 1958 issue of the trade publication Sponsor.)

Ernie goes into more of the story in his article, “Cut-Up Culture“.

Our brains usually have a hard time computing immensely large numbers. That’s why I love asking “If you have a billion pennies, what would you do with them (without spending them)?

This story about expired coupons brings the vast scale of numbers to a cold hard reality. What would you do with 5-10 million expired coupons EVERY WEEK?

These guys couldn’t burn them up for the mess of ashes blown around town. They couldn’t flush them into the sewer for the blockages it creates.

I wanted to have them make paper airplanes out of all the expired coupons. Of course, the labor of folding the paper airplanes prohibits that. But my imagination likes to think what would you do with millions of paper airplanes? At first it sounds like fun. But the sheet immensity of it would prove a fun idea completely impractical.

I’m glad these guys didn’t have access to rocket technology where they would blast off the coupons into outer space. Maybe eventually aliens would discover some of the coupons and visit planet Earth to redeem them. Only to find out that the coupons had already expired.

Of course, you couldn’t jettison 5-10 million coupons into space every week. The payload would just be too heavy. Thank goodness we have recycling these days.

Again, please read Ernie’s article about the history of coupons. Twice a week he does an INCREDIBLE job going into detail on fascinating topics. Give his newsletter a subscribe. He’s a designer, so he crafts every email to look fantastic.

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