How We Got to Now

One of Don’s favourite authors, Steve Johnson, has partnered with the BBC to create a 6 part mini television series entitled “How We Got to Now.” The show explores some of the most important ideas and inventions that led us to where we are today. Johnson has also written a book under the same title.

The series is a documentary that explores the ideas and inventions of what led to our modern world. The 6 main “inventions” are: Glass, Time, Clean, Light, Cold, and Sound. Although they may initially appear simple and obvious, Johnson delves deep into each topic to explore how they evolved from simple discoveries, to changing how civilized nations developed and their people lived. Johnson notes the importance that many inventions were not simple “Eureka!” moments, with everything falling into place perfectly. Instead, the vast majority are a slow and steady progression that took place over many years, with the help of many entrepreneurs and inventors.

A perfect example is that of artificial cold. We likely all take for granted how convenient our refrigerators and freezers are. We buy our groceries, leave them in the fridge, and then enjoy the luxury of having fresh food (except for those science experiments lost in the back of the fridge) ready when you need it. Not to mention the rise of frozen foods, which allow the busy modern day worker to prepare a decent meal in minutes, and for very low cost. However, prior to the invention of artificial cold, food would only last for a few days at best. Certain foods were simply unavailable to millions of people because they spoiled so quickly. As a result, home-makers had to spend a significantly larger amount of time on feeding the family, both in procuring the food and making the meals.

With the invention of artificial cold, this time was drastically reduced, and home-makers had a lot more free time on their hands thanks to modern conveniences. By extension, one could argue that this freed-up time contributed to the rise of women entering the workforce in the 1970s. Although clearly not the entire cause as many factors were at play, Johnson does stress that it is the many smaller inventions and ideas that gradually lead to the biggest of changes over generations. A great watch and a fabulous read, we recommend you check out this historical tour-de-force when you have the chance.

For more information on the show, Click Here
Also see a book review by Peter Forbes of The Guardian

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