Awesome Online Documentary Series

This recommendation is an antidote to the reductive good vs bad approach to news reporting and culture generally. Adam Curtis is an incredible documentary maker who has made a number of fantastic documentaries for the BBC such as The Century of the Self and All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace .

His documentaries make extensive use of archive footage which is then weaved together into a coherent story. On his blog he continues this approach but working in both text and video and for a more committed audience he is able to go into more detail on items for which there is not video, and also show videos which perhaps wouldn’t make it into a TV documentary.

The result is a fascinating series of long-form articles which go deep into particular stories. The series on Afghanistan and Congo are absolutely engrossing. I really like the contrast you get from looking at old news reports of an event, and comparing to current reporting: it’s a great reminder of the limitations of the media and that we are always looking at events through a narrow, blurred lens.

Separate to the quality of his articles, I have great sympathy with the world view he expresses and his dismay with the cult of TINA or (There Is No Alternative). I don’t believe that how we organise our society is optimal (no matter what you are optimising for) but we seemed to have stopped looking for alternatives and accepted as fundamental the primacy of the market. There must be alternatives, given the failings of our current system. Opposition parties need to be providing big ideas to deal with severe and rapid changes that are occuring, not proposing to do more of what they did last time they were in power.

The link is below, I highly recommend spending some quality time there:

Lost / Ignored Knowledge

This post is going to start with a fairly long digression, please go with it and I promise we’ll get to the point eventually.

The first car I owned for a significant period of time was a 1985 Mark II VW Golf. It had a 1.3 litre engine and cost £350. I owned it for 3 or 4 years and then sold it for £350. Maybe everyone loves their first car and the freedom it provides, memories of driving it to 18th birthday parties sleeping in the front and then driving home. I did get to know the lady from Green Flash pretty well and I do remember spending not small amounts of time on the side of the road with it, but there were 2 characteristics of this car that made me prefer it to cars I’ve driven since:

  1. I was a better driver than the car was a car – I could drive with my foot fully down on roads I knew. After the Golf I drove a Ford Probe in which putting your foot down had you making very rapid progress. Maybe I’m just not a very good driver but I didn’t find it as fun having to be very careful with the accelerator
  2. Stuff that went wrong with it was pretty straightforward to diagnose, understand and fix being purely mechanical.

So while working in a tech company and appreciating progress and innovation, I have a lot of sympathy with and the view that not every problem with a high tech solution.

Not all innovation is progress. A great example of this is the TV industry where you see companies fervently trying to sell new, more useless innovations and features. 3D TVs are a great example, that Philips one which glowed around the edge, the new curved ones which look ridiculous etc.

These people are having loads of fun:

Embed from Getty Images

Low Tech Magazine publishes a limited range of long-form articles examining how older technologies may still enrich our lives today. Favourites of the magazine are trolleybuses and cargo bicycles. A post I particularly enjoyed was on living in the solar envelope – how town planners of old understood how to make their built environment most comfortable for all. The example of Barcelona as planned and then how that plan is being destroyed by a desire for greater density is very interesting.

The sister site No Tech Magazine is also good and updates more regularly, but Low Tech Magazine is the one to start with.