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Greenlit: How We Got to Now, PBS / BBC

How We Got to Now (6 x 60′) – Steven Johnson, the popular American science author and media theorist, explores the power and the legacy of great ideas. Topics explored in the series include why and how ideas happen, and their sometimes unintended results, including how the search for clean water opened the way to invention of the iPhone, and how the nagging problem of overheating in a New York printing business led to the invention of air conditioning, which inspired mass migration and a political transformation.

Johnson explains how the answers to the questions he poses in each episode — such as “how do we make something cold?” or “how do we create light?”— have driven other discoveries through the web of ideas and innovations that made each finding possible. Tracking each pursuit through history both ancient and contemporary, Johnson unlocks tales of unsung heroes and radical revolutions that changed the world and the way we live in it.

Alongside the bizarre coincidences, intense rivalries, terrible failures and moments of heroic achievement that made theories into realities, the series uses historical precedents and modern-day analogies to explain why it’s not always the smartest person in the room who has the best idea. From frozen foods entrepreneur Clarence Birdseye to Internet visionary Tim Berners-Lee, Hollywood “Golden Age” actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr to mother of radioactivity Marie Curie, and from Thomas Alva Edison to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, the series shows how the best ideas can come from surprising places (and take years to shape), as well as how amateurs can revolutionize specialist fields, and why patents are sometimes a big idea’s worst enemy.

Episodes include:

  • REFRIGERATION – How our mastery of “cold on demand” helped give birth to at least four million babies, created the golden age of Hollywood and unlocked the secrets of the universe.
  • CLEAN – How our battle against dirt created the sidewalk, the swimming pool, the flat screen and the iPhone.
  • LIGHT – How our quest to harness light changed our genetic make-up, gave birth to Times Square, Las Vegas, video downloads and an artificial sun.
  • SOUND – How the journey to harness sound created the modern world of instant communication, but also helped put thousands of planes in the sky, changed the face of warfare and created a new way for teenagers to rebel.
  • TIME – How our journey to calculate time helped create international trade and travel, victory for the North in the Civil War, GPS and understanding of the origins of human life.
  • SIGHT – How our quest to see better helped us see the world differently, whether right in front of our noses with the birth of eyeglasses or far beyond our visible universe with the creation of the telescope.

Channel: PBS  (CPB/PBS Program Challenge Fund) / BBC

Producer: Nutopia

TX: Fall 2014

Source: PBS press release

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