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Arts & Culture

HOW WE GOT TO NOW WITH STEVEN JOHNSON: Sound

Courtesy of Stewart Cook
Steven Johnson playing the piano at Sony Studios.

Airs Dec. 13, 2017 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

HOW WE GOT TO NOW, a new six-part series co-created and hosted by best-selling science and technology author Steven Johnson ("Where Good Ideas Come From," "Everything Bad is Good for You"), examines the fascinating stories of the unlikely people whose ideas have made our modern world possible.

The series looks at the little-known stories of the men and women who came up with revolutionary innovations that have had far reaching consequences beyond their original intent and play a role in just about every aspect of our daily lives.

The ideas are broken down into six themes that encompass the pillars of modern civilization: Clean (Oct. 18), Time (Oct. 25), Glass (Nov. 1), Light (Nov. 8), Cold (Nov. 22) and Sound (Dec. 13).

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Preview of Sound

Here's what to look forward to in the episode 'Sound'.

“It is very easy to take many of the conveniences that we encounter every day for granted. Most people wouldn’t think sipping a glass of ice water in the summer is very remarkable. Yet clear glass, clean water and the ability to keep ice frozen in warm weather are all the products of innovations without which the world as we know it today would not exist,” said Steven Johnson. “And amazingly, the amateur inventors, entrepreneurs and tinkerers who made our modern world possible have nearly been forgotten to history.”

The enthusiasm, curiosity and humor that are hallmarks of Johnson’s award-winning writing on popular science are evident on screen as he goes to great lengths and distances to illustrate how these ideas shape our lives.

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In San Francisco, he climbs into a rat and cockroach-infested sewer that keeps the above-ground world clean; in Dubai, he goes skiing in a gigantic indoor winter wonderland in the middle of the desert; and, in Venice, he meets a descendant of Angelo Barovier, the first person to create crystal-clear glass — an invention that creates a chain reaction of innovations that has made everything from deep space exploration to global communication possible.

Courtesy of Gemma Hagen
Steven Johnson and spark gap transmitter.

Episode 6: "Sound" airs Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 11 p.m. - Imagine a world without the power to capture or transmit sound.

Journey with best-selling author and host Steven Johnson to the Arcy sur Cure caves in northern France, where he finds the first traces of the desire to record sound — 10,000 years ago.

He also learns about the difference that radio made in the civil rights movement and discovers that telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell thought that the best use for his invention was long-distance jam sessions.

Courtesy of Gemma Hagen
Steven Johnson with sketches of the audion. Lee De Forest invented the audion, a vacuum tube device that could take a weak electrical signal and amplify it into a larger one. The audion helped AT&T set up coast-to-coast phone service, and it was also used in everything from radios to televisions to the first computers.

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.

Courtesy of Gemma Hagen
Steven Johnson getting a dolphin hug.

Follow @stevenbjohnson on Twitter.

Where do good ideas come from?

How do good ideas happen? Steven explains the process of coming up with them in the first place.

Steven's Memorable Moments

Steven looks back at some of his most memorable moments during the filming of How We Got To Now.

How We Got To Now Preview

Six-Part Series to Premiere in Fall 2014 on PBS.

Preview of Glass

Find out what is coming up in the episode 'Glass'.

Preview of Light

Here's what's coming up in next week's episode - light.

Preview of Cold

Preview of Clean

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