Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
The new book Today Meets Yesterday uses graphic design to tease out how technology has changed culture.
Seismic shifts aren’t likely to be tidy. But in the new book, Today Meets Yesterday, the Berlin-based illustrator Yang Liu makes quick work of mapping major changes in habits, routines, and landscapes.
The book doesn’t operate from a particular time or place; there’s no concrete “today” or “yesterday” on its pages. But Liu’s pictogram pairings assume a static past and a markedly different present, egged on by a smattering of smart tech: wi-fi, cell phones, iPads.
Liu’s diagrams tell the story of how, when it comes to morning routines, the tablet and drip coffee have supplanted the newspaper and the cup and saucer. The shopping cart is as recognizable as an online checkout icon as it is as a fixture in brick-and-mortar stores. Social lives have ballooned outward from a self-contained circle of friends to a more amorphous network, with seemingly infinite points of divergence and overlap.
Other diptychs powerfully portray aspects of modern ecological crises, such as swapping cast-off plastic bottles for most creatures in a school of fish—an easy-to-digest way of nodding to the trillions of tons of plastic floating or sunk in the world's oceans.
The cleverly simplistic illustrations lack the specificity and nuance of a deep sociological dive. But, from their birds-eye-view vantage point, they take stock of the shifting shape of technologies and objects and the transformations they’ve nudged along.
Today Meets Yesterday, $15 at TASCHEN.