You have an option. The world’s brightest minds have discovered a way to shrink humans down to only 5 inches tall as an answer to overpopulation. Not only does it reduce human consumption and waste, but the procedure comes with a dramatic increase in the value of the individual’s money (an 8-inch car is much cheaper to build than a 170-inch car).
This is the plot of the 2017 movie “Downsizing” featuring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig. It’s another blockbuster film that I have yet to see, but something about the topic makes me pause. If you had this option, what would you do? The idea of shrinking yourself down comes with a plague of ethical, personal and moral challenges that extend beyond your carbon footprint. At first I thought it was a silly idea, but the connotations hit hard and fast.
First, let’s consider the positives. If you are only 5 inches tall, you don’t need a huge house. In fact, your living needs are so impressively reduced that you could have the multi-level mansion you’ve always dreamed of. Your quality of life would probably improve. You can have the best car, eat the tastiest food and throw the wildest parties. When you downsize, a life savings of $50,000 is suddenly worth over $7 million. No more financial concerns. You don’t take up much space, so plane and train tickets are a minimal expense, and you can go to any place in the world. You don’t even need to work. When a lot of people imagine a successful life, this might be one version of it.
As more of the population undergoes the downsizing, the effect on the environment reduces. Overpopulation becomes less of an issue, as people’s needs aren’t as demanding. A single chicken can feed the whole city. A bottle of water can last you a couple of months. “Acres” of land may only take up a portion of the desk in your dorm room. You get to live the dream and save the world at the same time.
This is great. The nice car I’ve wanted, endless trips around the world and giant home to call my own. But something doesn’t seem right. This imaginary world would be missing an important element of what I would consider “life,” yet I can’t put my finger on what it is. If enough people downsize, communities would still flourish. There would be no reason to go to school or work, unless it was a hobby. You might only be 5 inches tall, but you’d be the same person in the same world. Considering the positives, it would seem selfish to not downsize.
Dissonance accompanies this theoretical option. Is this miniature life really “living?” The world where all of the luxuries are a given, why does it all seem false? Maybe it’s because we didn’t earn it. Or it could be because it’s not the world we’re used to. Whatever the reason, it does not seem right to consider this miniature world to be a true representation of the lives we lead. If reaching these successes that we all dream of isn’t right, then what are we striving after? The questions keep coming, and most annoyingly, this concept makes me question my own understanding of life and the human world. Kudos to Hollywood for prompting an existential crisis from a movie synopsis.
Instead of dealing with these big questions, I decided to go to the movies to watch “Pitch Perfect 3.” I sat there in the dark theater as previews began to play. The few other people in the room were getting comfortable in their seats, taking off coats and setting their phones to silent. In that moment, if I were only 5 inches tall, the experience I was having would be exactly the same. I would never be able to tell what size I was, or that my oversized bucket of popcorn was actually minuscule to the normal human world. I wouldn’t know. And that terrifies me.
It’s all just a movie and an idea. Given the opportunity, would you downsize?
Contact Maika Isogawa at misogawa ‘at’ stanford.edu.