An illustrated book provides a tour of groundbreaking technologies and their effects.
Esoteric, seemingly minor technological advances often produce monumental ramifications for society. In a companywide collaborative effort, Quartz catalogs the impact of 10 different discoveries that changed the world. For example, the active pixel sensor, invented by Eric Fossum, a professor of engineering, for the purposes of space travel, is the innovation responsible for the transformation of the cellphone into a pocket camera and also paved the way for far more sophisticated factory robots. Improvements in refrigeration, especially the creation of the “reefer,” a special refrigerated metal shipping container, has changed the way people eat, making food from around the world available everywhere. And the lithium-ion battery, constructed out of the lightest metal on the periodic table, permitting a maximum of energy to be stored in a minimum of space, has made mobile technology possible. Furthermore, the authors furnish an eye-opening discussion of server farms, which collectively constitute the backbone of the internet, with their suitable locations apparently nearly impossible to find. The authors permit themselves lots of fascinating digressions, too, touching on internet censorship in China, the adoption of solar panels in North Korea, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s ecological ambitions. This is more a coffee-table book than a traditional study, with its physical construction aesthetically striking and novel, a kind of homage to the creativity it chronicles. There’s even a pullout section illustrating the physical elements most central to the modern global economy. The pages are of different sizes, some matte and some glossy, some saturated in brilliant color and others black-and-white. At the very least, the book is a visual feast, gorgeously designed, a handsome display piece. The writing, though, is also sharp and clear, and the commentary supplied eclectic and consistently engrossing. But there are two conspicuous omissions. First, the authors neglect to establish an overarching mission statement, a thematic thread that more clearly binds together this pastiche of peregrinations. In addition, the work is the result of the Quartz company’s collective labors—nearly every staff member contributed in some way—but virtually nothing concrete is said about the news outlet itself.
A ravishingly designed and intelligently written study of modern technology.