Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bonkers for Burke!

OK, so a while ago I ranted about James Burke and his books & videos.

I found out the local library has the connections series (1,2,3) on DVD. Unfortunately, they are all sporadically out, so renting them in order is practically impossible (each of the series is 10 episodes on 5 DVDs. That's 15 DVDs and 30 hours of viewing!

This week Alisa and I watched Connections I, episodes 7 through 10. Simply awesome stuff.

And although it's somewhat dated in appearance (connections 1 was released in 1979), it was remarkably ahead of it's time. In just the four episodes we watched, he uses history to point to implications of current day (for then) inventions and their implication on the future. Amongst those he mentions:

  • Advances in transportation and communication leading to a globalized workforce and the move of much of the manufacturing (first) and other (later) jobs to developing nations.
  • The implications of the computerized 'cashless' society and the dangers it will pose on privacy when banks and other corporations have as much or more information about individuals as governments do.
  • What later would become known as the digital divide: The implications of a society in which more and more of what we depend upon is rooted in technology, and fewer and fewer people understand it, have access to it, and are empowered to make decisions on it.
  • How this increased pace of innovation and specialization will lead to a world of "talking point" decision making based on emotion and not fact and debate.
  • How the computer combined with telecommunications will thrust into an age where the rate of innovation and change will make the previous history's seem like a snail's crawl.

Wow. Pretty ahead of his time. Sure, he wasn't the only guy thinking about these things, but that all five of those bullets are nailed in just 4 hours of a 30 hour set of discs in pretty awesome.

Go get it at your local library! Or go spend the $450 bucks you'll need to buy the whole thing! Beleive me, I'm tempted...


adam lake said...

so..i dig burke...but one thing i think you have to be careful of is the fact that you can play this connections game in lots of scenarios and sound 'amazing'.

the reason its easy is because any artifact that exists in the world today we can find some 'source' of its origins 10, 100, 1000 years ago and say 'see'.

don't have time to construct a long list of examples here via blog, but one:

sunglasses are made from goop from the ground discovered in a hole in pennsylvania...yes. sunglasses are made from optics started by X.

its like we're backtracking from a thing that exists today and searching for an interesting story to tell about it. it makes history more interesting and allowed me to enjoy it more by seeing these connections but i have to say after 10 or so episodes you start to see his gimmick.

and i still watched all of them.

KimPallister said...

Well, I take issue with that. I agree with you, but I don't think that's what he's doing.

There's a difference between "a uses b, therefore a caused b", and pointing out "person X was using A to try and cause C. Along comes person Y looking to solve B, and he happens to know person X through this..."

My point being that he's gone far enough on 80% of these to actually specifically point out the time & place that A caused B.

And whether or not, the point of the whole series is to point out that technology A may have effect on area/market/problem B that it was NEVER planned for and that you could never have foreseen.

His points about specialization are good ones too. Simple example: If you learn about farming, you learn that the ox & plow was displaced by the tractor. Great. So you can wait for another better machine to come along, but if you know the history of railroads & automobiles, you know that THOSE histories ended impacting farming. Will the next impact on farming come from a farmer? Or an internet startup? or a bio-tech company? or a political change? or a fast food business innovation? or a fashion trend? (e.g. community-based priced negotiation, genetically modified plants, subsidies, chicken nuggets, organic produce)