Here Is Today is an interactive data visualization that walks you through your place in history.

It’s basically a game of scale.

It zooms out…

..further and further…

…until we’re pretty darn tiny.

The visual isn’t inherently negative.

But it can honestly make you feel a bit insignificant.

My idea to counter this is simple:

Just reverse the order. So rather than zooming out, time zooms in.

And we’d be left with the impression…

…Here Is Today.

…Here Is Today.

…Here Is Today.

Infographic: Compare Today With Every Day That Came Before

Day not going well? Don’t worry. Because in the grand scheme, today is woefully insignificant.

Here is today. And it’s only today because there was a yesterday--a whole lot of yesterdays, in fact--the yesterdays of 13,789 million years in the history of the universe.

That’s an overwhelming thought, but Luke Twyman eases you into it during his interactive visualization Here Is Today. It starts with a simple yellow block that represents today. Then, with each click of the mouse, today is contextualized in a wider and wider scope. Today is placed on a timeline of this month, then this year, this century, this eon, the history of the Earth, the history of life, and the history of the universe.

Twyman’s inspiration was simply “to be able to visualise such large scale.”

“This is something I struggle with; I guess most people do,” he tells Co.Design. “I wanted to have a little emotional impact as well, though that largely just comes from the subject matter. I was keen to present solely the information without any message, and let people generate their own meaning, if they choose to give it a meaning at all.”

The visual, filled with an array of basic colors, is certainly too vibrant to be labeled as inherently pessimistic. Even still, Twyman has found the conclusion to often be one of hopelessness, which wasn’t his intent at all.

“It’s been a little painful to see some people using something I’ve made as if it’s propaganda for apathy,” Twyman admits. “I’d say to them that if they’re looking for perspective then they shouldn’t only look at their place in time, but their place in humanity…and that any idea or human change can only ever start with one person, so being an individual in a massive expanding universe isn’t so powerless or matterless.”

Twyman makes a fair counterpoint, but it does beg the question: Could he have designed Here Is Today differently, to leave viewers with the taste of optimism and activism? I think so, and it wouldn’t require any new graphics or copy. If the graphic started with the widest view--today in the history of the universe--and zoomed in, rather than out, we’d be left with a very different conclusion. The last thing we saw wouldn’t be today as a sliver on countless years of history, but that simple, dominant yellow square.

You’d see that, despite every unfathomable thing that’s come before, here is today. We’re standing on it. It’s ours. Now let’s make the most of it.

See it here.

[Hat tip: FlowingData]

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3 Comments

  • Pam Geist

    I find
    optimism in the design as is - regardless of how "zoomed out" the
    graphic is, today is always present. It asserts again and again today's
    irrefutable inclusion in the history of all things with equal (whether that is
    little or great) significance. It also insists on a sense of place, grounding
    today in a linear timeline as an immovable point that serves to reorient you in
    each graphic. The linearity, simplicity, and repetitious assertions of today as
    something tangible culminates in a comforting effect.

  • Nadeaump

    I really like this!  It shows how insignificant a day's event's can be over the bigger scheme of things.  It shows how many billions of days have preceded today, thereby giving hope for all the possibilities the future holds.  And, it shows the vast history of the earth, through to the beginning of time, which is meaningful in itself.  Thank you!