What would life be like for humans if we were all 50cm tall? Dutch artist Arne Hendriks says people would make less of a mess of the planet if they lived in tinier bodies. Hendricks’ “The Incredible Shrinking Man” is a speculative design research project on the consequences of downsizing the human species.
“It has been a long established trend for people to grow taller. As a direct result, we need more energy, more food and more space. But what if we decided to turn this trend around? What if we use our knowledge to shrink mankind?” writes Hendricks.
The underlying motivation is that people have grown beyond natural limits because of their sheltered lives. This has led to the over-consumption of the Earth’s natural resources. Bigger bodies have become a big burden on the planet.
“At 50cm we’d only need about 2 per cent to 5 per cent of the resources we need now, and although it is an extreme goal it's also familiar because most babies are born this size,” says Hendricks.
In pursuit of this theoretical goal, Hendricks and his team of researchers have held investigative workshops, exhibitions, and a restaurant tailored to serve portions fit for the 50cm tall humans of the future.
Hendricks’ ways to achieve this goal include an elixir to support slow growth rates while reducing cancer risks, the celebration of lactose intolerance because the inability to ingest lactose promotes slow growth, and the protection of the Congolese Mbuti pygmies whose genes could contain the clue to small size. The designer went a step further, proposing experiments with zebrafish or shrink experience machines to “get a sense of what it would be like to be smaller.”
The concept is not without its flaws, the biggest of which is the danger a small human could face in everyday life. With a brain the size of a walnut, 50cm humans could fall prey to the household cat or get squashed in a hailstorm. But, Hendricks is confident human ingenuity would prevail in these extreme circumstances.
“We would, in fact, shrink into a world of abundance,” says Hendricks. “Renewable energy produced today would be more than enough to satisfy our demands. One tomato will make a decent soup and one chicken will feed a hundred.”