Exploring alternate views of change

Exploring alternate views of change

From the first episode of the 1978 10-part series, Connections, “The Trigger Effect”:

Would you do me a favor? I’d like to stop talking for a minute. And when I do, take a look at the room you’re in. And above all, at the man-made objects in that room that surround you — the television set, the lights, the phone, and so on — and ask yourself what those objects do to your life just because they’re there. Go ahead.

Well that is what this series is going to be all about. It’s about the things that surround you in the modern world. And just because they’re there, shape the way you think and behave. And why they exist in the form they do. And who or what was responsible for them existing at all.

That’s host and co-producer James Burke, introducing the series which focused on the history of science and technology. What I’ve appreciated about Burke’s style is his ability to frame complex subject matter. To tell stories. Accessibly. Beginning each episode (or here, the entire series) with the familiar, he moves from there to the what appears to be a timeline of unrelated events, but neatly presents interconnectedness of the particular objects and events at the end. Starting with the sail, for instance, and ending up with the atomic bomb:

Following the trail from the past up to the emergence of modern technology that surrounds us in our daily lives and affects our lives is rather like a detective story. Because at no time in the past did anybody who had anything to do with the business of inventing or changing things ever know what the full effect of his actions would be. He just went ahead and did what he did for his own reasons, like we do. That’s how change comes about. … You never know where the story is heading until the very last minute.

Connections’ approach to history — familiar before unfamiliar (with surprise and humor) — is a model to study for telling any complex story.