In 2015 the world was divided into two warring factions overnight. And at the center of this schism was a single photograph. Cecilia Bleasdale took a picture of a dress that she planned to wear to her daughter’s wedding and that photo went beyond viral. Some saw it as blue with black trim; others as white with gold trim. For his part, Wired science writer Adam Rogers knew there was more to the story — a reason different people looking at the same object could come to such radically divergent conclusions about something as simple as color.
Rogers recently wrote a book titled Full Spectrum: How the Science of Color Made Us Modern. In this episode, Roman Mars talks with the author about how the pursuit to organize, understand, and create colors has been one of the driving forces shaping human history, starting with the story of this hotly debated piece of apparel from 2015 then winding back through built environments of global World’s Fairs.
From “kelly green” to “millennial pink,” our world is graced with a richness of colors. But our human-made colors haven’t always matched nature’s kaleidoscopic array. To reach those brightest heights required millennia of remarkable innovation and a fascinating exchange of ideas between science and craft that’s allowed for the most luminous manifestations of our built and adorned world.
In Full Spectrum, Rogers takes us on that globe-trotting journey, tracing an arc from the earliest humans to our digitized, synthesized present and future. We meet our ancestors mashing charcoal in caves, Silk Road merchants competing for the best ceramics, and textile artists cracking the centuries-old mystery of how colors mix, before shooting to the modern era for high-stakes corporate espionage and the digital revolution that’s rewriting the rules of color forever.