There are, according to the estimate for this month, 6,790,062,216 people in the world. It's hard enough to say the number, never mind picture those people. You could round it up to a less tongue-twisting 6.8 billion, but does that make such a frightening figure any easier to compute? When you try, do you see faces, or just more brain-frying strings of digits?
The sheer vastness of the data we gather in our attempts to understand the world around us has been challenging statisticians since the earliest censuses. The "size of Wales" approach to number-crunching is popular among headline writers; but is it helpful, for example, to imagine the global population in terms of 75,445 Wembleys, or, indeed, 2,341 Waleses? The numbers are still too big.
It's the same with the news we read and hear each day. What does it mean when we're told that unemployment has risen by 281,000? Is that a huge number? Or just a big one? The stories are about people, but it is often hard to see beyond the figures.
So what if, rather than grapple with endless triplets of zeros, we shrank the world, and all the potentially flummoxing data we mine from it, down to a more manageable size? What if the world were a truly global village of, say, 100 people? What would those faces look like, and who would those people be?
It's a question that has piqued the curiosity of several would-be demographers, including, most famously, the late US environmentalist Donella Meadows. In 1990, she published The State of the Village Report, which was released as a poster at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. At around the same time, a Canadian retired geography teacher called David Smith started work on If the World Were a Village, which was eventually published in 2002. Both works conveyed a vivid sense of global perspective. Smith's research, for example, revealed that a world village of 100 people would be home to 61 Asians, as well as 16 severely undernourished people - and 189 chickens.
Of course, little Britain barely gets a look-in in that reduction: we are equivalent to just about a single person. So what would happen if we gave our country (with a population of 61 million, give or take a Rutland or a West Somerset) the same treatment? If England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were condensed to a single community of 100 people, what would that community look like?
To find out, The Independent put pencil to paper, ear to phone and finger to calculator, and trawled acres of spreadsheets and data-sets published by government and other statistical authorities to produce a snapshot of Britain in the 21st century.
Look around you. Are the people you see representative of the country they call home? If not, this is what Britain really looks like.
If Britain were a village of 100 people...
17 of the 100 villagers would be under the age of 15, while another 16 would be 65 or over (three of them 80 or over).
There would be 80 adults (aged 16 or over), of whom 40 would be married and 11 would live alone.
There would be 42 households in the village, of which 13 would be home to just one person. (Six of these would belong to lone pensioners, of whom five would be female.)
Of the 19 villagers aged between 20 and 34, four would live with their parents.
The village would welcome one new baby this year. The baby would expect to live for 76 years and six months (if it was a boy), or 81 years and seven months (if it was a girl).
One person would die this year.
Ninety-two of the villagers would be white. Two would be black, two Indian, one Pakistani, one of mixed race and two would be of other races.
Ten people would have been born outside the village, three of whom would live in London.
Six people would be gay or lesbian (probably).
84 of them would live in England, eight in Scotland, five in Wales and three in Northern Ireland.
Eight people would live in Greater London (one of them in Croydon).
There would be 51 women and girls, and 49 men and boys.
If Britain were a village of 100 people, and its land mass were scaled down by the same proportion as its population, the village would cover an area the size of 99 football pitches.
Fifty-three of these football pitches would be English, 32 Scottish, nine Welsh and five Northern Irish.
Agricultural land would occupy 20 football pitches, on which 54 sheep, 17 cows, eight pigs and 273 chickens would roam. There would be one farmer.
London would cover just over half a football pitch.
All built-up areas and gardens would occupy the equivalent of six football pitches.
Seventy-two people would identify themselves as Christian (although only 10 people in the village would go to church regularly). Fifteen people would say that they were not religious, while there would be two Muslims, one Hindu and 10 people who practised other religions.
Each person would generate 495kg of waste every year. The village as a whole would generate 163kg of waste every day, of which just 47kg would be put out for recycling.
If Britain were a village of 100 people, 17 of the villagers would smoke, of whom 11 would like to give up.
Nineteen adults and three children would be classified as obese (that is they would have a Body Mass Index of 30 or greater).
Sixteen men and eight women would usually exceed the Government's daily sensible drinking benchmark (3-4 units per day for men; 2-3 units a day for women).
Eight men and four women would have taken an illicit drug in the past year.
Eight people would have asthma.
Eight adults would be suffering from depression today (but as many as 20 would suffer from depression at some point in their lifetime).
One person would have dementia.
The villagers would have 118 mobile phones between them (66 of which would be pay-as-you-go). There would be 55 telephone landlines.
There would be 90 televisions (an average of more than two per household).
Twenty-one villagers would have watched Andy Murray beat Stanislas Wawrinka under floodlights at Wimbledon this year; 32 people would have watched Susan Boyle lose 'Britain's Got Talent'.
Of the 42 households in the village, 32 would have satellite, digital or cable television.
Twenty-seven households would have access to the internet (24 of those would have a broadband connection).
Thirty people would have a Facebook account.
Sixteen of the villagers would be at school – of whom one would be in private education.
One of the 16 pupils would leave school this year. Twelve of them would, when the time comes, go into higher education. Nine of them would achieve five or more GCSE or equivalent passes at grades A*-C.
One person in the village would be illiterate.
There would be one teacher.
Seven people would be in further education. (In 1990, there were only four.)
Of the 62 villagers of working age, 45 would have jobs; nine of them would be in the public sector.
They would earn an average of £388 a week (including part-time workers).
Of the 13 villagers of working age who weren't working, four would be unemployed; three would be looking after family and/or home; three would be excluded from the workforce by sickness; two would be students; and one would have taken early retirement.
The 80 adults in the village would share a personal debt of £2.4m (£30,480 each, on average).
Six would be claiming housing benefit; five would own their homes but have negative equity.
The richest 10 people in the village would receive 30 per cent of the total income. Between them, they would earn more than the poorest 50 combined.
The poorest 10 people in the village would receive 2 per cent of total income.
Two adults would not have access to a bank account.
Fifty-six of the 100 villagers would claim to have given to charity within the past four weeks. Overall, the village would donate £17,393 to charity this year.
Twenty people would claim the state pension; 12 would be women.
Five villagers would be employed in the food industry.
Five men and four women would have had multiple sex partners in the previous year.
If Britain were a village of 100 people, there would be 74 voters.
Only 26 of those voters would have gone to the polls at this year's European elections.
Of the 42 households in the village, 18 would have at least one pet. Between them, those households would have 38 pets (not including fish), including 13 dogs (comprising 10 pedigrees, one cross and two mongrels) and 13 cats (12 of which would be moggies, or non-pedigrees).
Three of the villagers would be vegetarians and a further five would be partly vegetarian.
Between them, the villagers would spend £2,955 a week on food and non-alcoholic drinks. They would spend £1,154 a week on food eaten outside the home, of which £355 would go towards alcohol.
Seventy-eight of the villagers would have a passport.
Fifty-five would have a driving licence.
There would be 56 motor vehicles in the village, including 44 cars and two motorbikes.
Of the 42 households in the village, 18 would have one car, 13 would have two or more cars and 10 would not have a car at all.
In the past year, the people of the village would have made 107 trips abroad, spending £60,055 between them.
To see more of Laurent Taubin’s work, visit www.unsitesurinternet.fr
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies