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Data: New (physical) book chronicles the virtual

  • This Nov. 19, 2012 photo shows model Lily Aldridge at the Victoria's Secret Herald Square store in New York. The California native has been a Victoria's Secret model since 2009, has walked the runway for Rag & Bone and Giles Deacon and appeared in ads for Coach, Clinque and Anthropologie. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

    This Nov. 19, 2012 photo shows model Lily Aldridge at the Victoria's Secret Herald Square store in New York. The California native has been a Victoria's Secret model since 2009, has walked the runway for Rag & Bone and Giles Deacon and appeared in ads for Coach, Clinque and Anthropologie. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

  • This book cover image released by Against All Odds Productions  shows "The Human Face of Big Data," by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt. At nearly five pounds (a companion iPad app is available), it is being delivered Tuesday by the publisher to what it calls some of the world's most influential people, including the CEOs of Yahoo and Starbucks and Amazon, Oprah Winfrey and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The goal, say those behind the project, is to "ignite a conversation about an extraordinary knowledge revolution." (AP Photo/Against All Odds Productions)

    This book cover image released by Against All Odds Productions shows "The Human Face of Big Data," by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt. At nearly five pounds (a companion iPad app is available), it is being delivered Tuesday by the publisher to what it calls some of the world's most influential people, including the CEOs of Yahoo and Starbucks and Amazon, Oprah Winfrey and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The goal, say those behind the project, is to "ignite a conversation about an extraordinary knowledge revolution." (AP Photo/Against All Odds Productions)

  •  We question. We research. We catalog. We quantify. We aggregate, calculate, communicate, analyze, extrapolate and conclude. And eventually, if we’re fortunate and thoughtful, we understand. These are the contours of the society that has taken shape in

    We question. We research. We catalog. We quantify. We aggregate, calculate, communicate, analyze, extrapolate and conclude. And eventually, if we’re fortunate and thoughtful, we understand. These are the contours of the society that has taken shape in

  • This Nov. 19, 2012 photo shows model Lily Aldridge at the Victoria's Secret Herald Square store in New York. The California native has been a Victoria's Secret model since 2009, has walked the runway for Rag & Bone and Giles Deacon and appeared in ads for Coach, Clinque and Anthropologie. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
  • This book cover image released by Against All Odds Productions  shows "The Human Face of Big Data," by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt. At nearly five pounds (a companion iPad app is available), it is being delivered Tuesday by the publisher to what it calls some of the world's most influential people, including the CEOs of Yahoo and Starbucks and Amazon, Oprah Winfrey and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The goal, say those behind the project, is to "ignite a conversation about an extraordinary knowledge revolution." (AP Photo/Against All Odds Productions)
  •  We question. We research. We catalog. We quantify. We aggregate, calculate, communicate, analyze, extrapolate and conclude. And eventually, if we’re fortunate and thoughtful, we understand. These are the contours of the society that has taken shape in

We question. We research. We catalog. We quantify. We aggregate, calculate, communicate, analyze, extrapolate and conclude. And eventually, if we’re fortunate and thoughtful, we understand.

These are the contours of the society that has taken shape in the past generation with the rise of an unstoppable, invisible force that changes human lives in ways from the microscopic to the gargantuan: data, a word that was barely used beyond small circles before World War II but now governs the day for many of us from the moment we awaken to the extinguishing of the final late-evening light bulb.

This is the playing field of The Human Face of Big Data, by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt, an enormous volume the size of a flat-screen computer monitor that chronicles, through a splash of photos and eye-opening essays and graphics, the rise of the information society.

The book is a curious, wonderful beast – a solid slab that captures a virtual universe, weighing in at nearly five pounds (a companion iPad app is available).

You would think that capturing such a sprawling – and, one might easily conclude, inherently nonvisual – societal change would be difficult in a coffee-table book. You’d be wrong. This is one of those rare animals that captures its era in the most distinct of ways. It’s the kind of thing you’d put in a time capsule for your children today to show them, long after you’re gone, what the world was like at the beginning of their lives.

The Associated Press

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