Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 7:34 AM

Must-watch: Connections

If you want to understand innovators, about the actual of character of the persistent folk who bring out new stuff, watch the James Burke series Connections. It's magnificent.

Told as a series of stories about how a minor feature of something led to another unanticipated thing, possibly far in the future, and another, over many years, decades, even centuries, leading to the accidental collection of things we use everyday.

Each is the story of one major area of innovation: Telecommunications, computers, jet engines, plastics, rockets, television, the atomic bomb and the production line. They can trace their roots in an uninterrupted chain of creativity to the beginning of history. Nothing was pre-ordained, and very few if any of the innovators, no matter how great, foresaw how their work would eventually be used.

Great vision is one thing, and creating new technology is another. There's not much actual glory in it, Burke says. And his stories, totally fascinating, prove it.

I've watched the series several times. It was the most influential of anything I've read or viewed in guiding my work as a technology developer. He's so right, it's about the connections. People building on the ideas of all that came before. I summarize it with the motto "Only steal from the best."

Episode 4

Why it's so fascinating

The series was created in 1979. So enough time has passed so we know how some of it has turned out. Burke actually got most of it right. There certainly was a lot of food for thought about the progression of technology through times of great change. This was a snapshot before most of the stuff we're using now came online. Email systems were still in a nascent form. There was no web, and personal computers barely existed. Yet Burke understood that computer technology wasn't just about operating airlines and billing systems and would be central to personal communication.

How to get

For a while the whole series was available on YouTube, for free, with the blessings of Mr Burke. But it's been withdrawn, apparently due to a copyright claim by the BBC. However, good news -- you can still download the series via BitTorrent.

You can get it on Amazon for $99 as a set of 5 DVDs. I wonder what Mr Burke would say about this, in the age of downloads and streaming. And the book is also available on Amazon, as a paperback or for Kindle.

Last built: Sun, Mar 22, 2015 at 5:50 PM

By Dave Winer, Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 7:34 AM. Still diggin!