James Burke’s “Connections”

Posted on March 28, 2007

I came across a great find today on iTunes. I’ve recently finished re-reading Plato’s Republic and was thinking of moving next to rediscover Descartes, when I got one my favorite quotes of all time stuck in my head, James Burke’s infamous line “…and that brings us to a guy named Descartes, on whom I blame everything.” The point he makes is with regards to reductionism and James goes on to note a friend of his who has a degree in Milton’s use of the coma, so on and so forth. But it’s great historical introspections like these that make you love James so much, to get you to re-examine that which you know into something greater and more profound, and even to be entertained in the process.

When I was in high school I first saw the “Connections” 10-part series that James did. The last part of that series “Yesterday, Tomorrow, and You” was, to me, profound. That one hour of video, made in 1978, did in fact change my life in 1992. In fact, looking at my youth, that series, and in particular that last episode, had as much impact on my life and its direction as the first BBS that I logged into which led me to a SunOS system for USENET, which turned me into the SA that I am today. And to point out just how unbelievably ahead of his time James was in that episode, he said the following in the least minute or two:

“We’re on the edge of a revolution in communications technology thats going to make that [access to knowledge] more possible than ever before. Or, if thats not done, to cause an explosion of knowledge that will leave those of us that don’t have access to it as powerless as if we were deaf, dumb, and blind.”

James was so ahead of his time it’s scary. Those words accurately describe the world in which we find ourselves today.

I’m lucky to say that one of the great honors of my life was getting to meet Mr Burke myself after he gave a keynote presentation at JavaOne several years back. Afterwards I stood around and was lucky enough to get in a quick “Hello and thank you for your work.” with a handshake. Someone nearby had several questions for James and since he needed to grab some lunch before flying out of San Francisco extended an offer to anyone that wanted to join him. It’s one of the greatest regrets of my life that I didn’t attend. Passing up lunch with a hero leaves a mark.

Anyway, to the point of all this. If you search iTunes for “Connections” you’ll find a Podcast… a video podcast. Its proper name is “Connections [ClickCaster.com]”. Under that podcast you’ll find the 10 episodes of the original 10 part 1978 Connections series including the episode that had so much impact on me. If you’re a fan of the show, I recommend grabbing it and adding it to your library. If you’ve seen some Connections (2 or 3) series before I recommend checking it out. And most of all, if you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend that you sit down with some coffee and a desire to learn and soak it up.

UPDATE: sfire||mouse and craig (see comments) were kind enough to point to the source, which provides Connections for both streaming and MP4 download, as well as The Day the Universe Changed, a series I’d heard of but never been able to see before. *score!* Get them here: http://clickcaster.com/users/jamesburke.