Tom Scott (previously) embarked on a rather fascinating experiment in order to visually demonstrate the vast difference between one million USD and one billion USD by using physical distance.
Scott only had to walk the length of a parking lot in the London Borough of Dagenham to achieve the first million dollars. In order to get to a billion dollars from there, however, Scott had to get in his car and drive for over an hour until he reached the sea.
Ten thousand dollars, the sort of money that’s more than the average annual wage in a lot of the world. That was a couple of steps. A million dollars, life-changing sums of money for almost everyone, except a lucky few. Well, that took a minute to walk. But a billion? Well, that takes more than an hour to drive. …If you wanted to go to a trillion dollars, well then, the distance of that would take a 787 — at cruising speed — five days. The words may sound very similar…but that’s the difference between a million, a billion, and a trillion.
Scott also referred to a couple of other visualizations. One by Humphrey Yang that used rice to demonstrate the difference and the other by Corridor Crew, who used a computer simulation. Scott appreciated both but felt that a simpler explanation was needed.
There are lots of ways to compare a million to a billion, but most of them use volume. And I think that’s a mistake, because volume just isn’t something the human brain is great at. So instead, here’s the difference between a million and a billion, in a more one-dimensional way: distance.