With its mix of science, humor and history, the PBS series How We Got to Now is an obvious choice for this week’s Saturday Selections.
About the Series
Over its six episodes How We Got to Now takes six items or concepts that we often take for granted and shows how these items, once marvels of their time, came to be so commonplace. Each item may seem mundane, but as host Steven Johnson shows, our lives wouldn’t be the same without them.
Using a touch of sarcastic humor, Johnson delves into our modern concept of cleanliness and time, our harnessing of sound and light, our manipulation of cold and the wonders of glass. Sounds dull, but as each show explores the creativity and happenstance that turned vague ideas into fascinating (and life-saving) inventions, you get hooked. Okay, the humor, period costumes and the fun little graphics help as well.
Not Exactly New, But Still Great
If you’ve ever seen (or read) James Burke’s The Day The Universe Changed or Connections, you’ll recognize elements of those series/books in How We Got To Now. Both shows start from what seems like an unrelated event then follow the course of other events (or concepts) to wind their way to the modern world. The main difference is that while Burke focused on the big concepts, events and players, Johnson looks into the “little guys” whose tinkering changed our world.
I loved how the show was presented. Aside from the humor, period costumes and fun little graphics, everything is explained clearly without throwing your brain into a bog. That doesn’t mean the shows are dumbed down, they are just really well edited and well done. And some of the information is simply fascinating such as how our sleep cycles have changed thanks to the clock and how Venetian glass makers were essentially imprisoned to spur them to coalesce their knowledge to improve glass.
So, if you love history or science, or are just curious about your world, definitely check out this series. A few episodes and several clips are available on the PBS website and app, or you can find the DVDs at your local library. If you prefer, you can also read Stephen Johnson’s book by the same name.
Have a great weekend everyone!