Author Steven Johnson to host new PBS series, ‘How We Got to Now’


Author Steven Johnson is getting his own PBS television show, “How We Got to Now.”

Johnson has written eight books about science and technology, including the bestselling “Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter,” and, most recently, “Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age.”

A six-part series, “How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson” will explain how certain inventions have reverberated in throughout history.


For example, an episode called “Clean” will explain “how the search for clean water opened the way to invention of the iPhone,” and “Refrigeration” will show “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,” according to a PBS statement.

On his own blog, Johnson wrote, “The show builds on many of themes in the innovation history trilogy of ‘The Ghost Map,’ ‘The Invention of Air,’ and ‘Where Good Ideas Come From,’ but is based on new material with a completely different structure. Each hour-long episode takes one facet of modern life that we mostly take for granted — artificial cold, clean drinking water, the lenses in your spectacles — and tells the 500-year story of how that innovation came into being: the hobbyists and amateurs and entrepreneurs and collaborative networks that collectively made the modern world possible.”

Johnson will host the show, acting as “storyteller and tour guide.” He writes, “I’ll be the one descending into the sewers or staring through the telescope at the top of Mauna Kea. Or looking totally ridiculous dressed up as a 19th-century gentleman in a carriage in Savannah.”

The show will feature an unlikely cast of historical characters, including Thomas Alva Edison; frozen-vegetable entrepreneur Clarence Birdseye; Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web; Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr, who helped invent a technology that would later be essential to the creation of Wi-Fi; and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

“How We Got to Now” is set to premier in fall 2014. Riverhead Books will publish a companion book.



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