In the history of computer networks, a pretty technical genre in the history of technology, it has struck me how Television documentaries seem to be very similar throughout the decades.
Computers and computer networks seem to be portrayed as the greatest technological achievement of the 20th century, and the question posed in the beginning of this mini-guide to great Saturday documentaries, is whether or not computer networks may be even greater than the industrial revolution itself.
We begin in 1969 and a British documentary sponsored by Barclay’s Bank:
This documentary has been creatively remixed by Telecomix in their 2010 documentary ”The Rise of Cipherspace”, where the original message is displaced from being all about computers into becoming a way of describing cipherspace. Nevertheless, this shows how the ”original” 1969 message is in one way still valid in the sense that there is a constant ”revolutionary” thrust in contemporary computer development. It seems that other techno-scientific areas have lost this feature. Space travels became boring after the cold war, biotechnology culminated with Dolly the Sheep after some 1980:s fear of cloning, and everything running on fossil fuel more or less went obsolete after the Gulf wars, in terms of having a visionary history.
If we look around in the late 1960:s there is also the US version. Even before the packet-switched computer networks, there is the ”Sage System” documentary made by the US Air Force and IBM, where one section of it also was remixed by Telecomix when their Crypto Munitions Bureau was formed.
This development is on course with history. The 1950:s contained centralized or decentralized computer networks that really only served as military missile guiding systems. Then, in the late 1960:s and early seventies, distributed networks started to emerge and the commercial sector, of which Barclay’s bank is a prime example, started to advocate computers. In the 1980:s there was TCP/IP, then in the 1990:s the world wide web emerged.
Now then, what happens in 2009 – roughly one decade after web 2.0, bittorrent, broadband and stock-market euphoria that crashed? Not only the Telecomix News Agency have detected a slightly different aspect of the computer networks – So have also the BBC:
The series ”The Virtual Revolution” is absolutely brilliant! The master narrative is of course the same as a decade before: Computer networks are revolutionary, and they are the future. But, the BBC have succeeded in highlighting the main change, which happened sometime in the mid 1990:s – The computer networks are no longer machines serving instrumental purposes in the military- or the economical sector, they are populated by humans (and bots).
So my suggestion is that you see them all. In chronological order or reverse… or random.