How Did the Invention of the Light Bulb, Refrigeration and Cell Phones Change the World?

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Steven Johnson explains how innovator Frederic Tudor’s method of moving and storing ice blocks from cool to warm states engendered the ice trade.

 

How We Got to Now airs on WSKG TV on December 9, 2015 from 9pm to 12am.

How We Got To Now with Steven Johnson reveals the story behind the remarkable ideas that made modern life possible; the unsung heroes that brought them into the world – and the unexpected and bizarre consequences each of these innovations has triggered. It’s a journey that takes Steven to meet penguins in the middle of the desert, deep down into the sewers of San Francisco and to the frozen wastes of the Arctic to fish with the Inuit.

“Light” – December 9, 2015 at 9pm

Steven Johnson relates the story of people who take us out of the dark and into the light. Hear about Edison’s light bulb, which he didn’t actually invent, and learn how an 18th-century shipping community discovered a source of illumination by putting a kid inside a whale’s head. See how a French scientist accidentally discovered how to create neon light, leading to a revolution in advertising. Dispelling the myth of the individual “eureka” moment, Johnson reveals that teamwork and collaboration led the way to the most transformative ideas. Whether, altering the world’s sleeping patterns, giving rise to mass spectator sports, revolutionizing how global business is done or triggering one of the great social reforms in American history, the pioneers of light have made themselves indispensable throughout human history.

“Cold”– December 9, 2015 at 10pm

Only in the last 200 years have humans learned how to make things cold. Steven Johnson explains how ice entrepreneur Frederic Tudor made ice delivery one of the biggest export business in the U.S. and describes the place where Clarence Birdseye, the father of the frozen food industry, experienced his eureka moment. He also travels to Dubai to see how mastery of cold has led to penguins in the desert. From IVF to food, politics and Hollywood to human migration, the unsung heroes of cold have led the way.

“Sound” – December 9, 2015 at 11pm

Imagine a world without the power to capture or transmit sound. Journey with Steven Johnson to the Arcy sur Cure caves in northern France, where he finds the first traces of the desire to record sound — 30,000 years ago. He also learns about the difference that radio made in the civil rights movement and reveals the Hollywood star who designed a WW2 weapon that would make possible the modern cell phone network. During an ultrasound on a pregnant dolphin, he realizes just how big a role sound has played in medicine. The unsung heroes of sound have had an impact on our working lives, race relations, saving lives and the radical alteration of cities.

Whether Steven is washing windows on the top floor of a skyscraper or drinking beer at 8am in order to better understand the health choices of a 19th century philosopher, he wants to delve into the intense rivalries, terrible failures and moments of heroic achievement of the men and women who have made the modern world. These are hobbyists and garage inventors, ordinary characters who’ve done extraordinary things…and yet have remained almost entirely unknown.

Find out more about How We Got to Now.

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