Growing up I learned How Things Work from the wonderful illustrated books of author David Macaulay. This week, I was surprised to see Macaulay’s endorsement in my inbox of a new illustrated illustrator by a different author – but the surprise didn’t last long.
After fifteen minutes I started flipping through an earlier copy of the Hidden Systems, which just came out this week, I immediately ordered the book for my kids. It seems like a great way to help them think about the Internet, the world’s water supply, and our power grid – and get them thinking about the world’s infrastructure they will inherit one day.
In 262 pages, author and cartoonist Dan Nott tackles each of these programs in the form of a comic panel, piecing together the elements of how they work and the basics of how they were invented, all without ignoring the societal challenges they all face. “I started to draw about hidden agendas because comics seem to have this ability that is like a great power to compare the way we are think with something in the way it works best,” Nott wrote in the book.
Much of it is material that took me years to learn, put into an incredibly readable form. Even adults will likely discover things they don’t know about, such as the locations and locations of secret buildings where phone companies hide their communications equipment.
I want to show you some of it, so I asked the publisher of Random House if I could share the first chapter about the metaphors we use to describe the Internet – metaphors that are sometimes useful but inherently wrong.
They happily obliged, so here it is!