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50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

BBC

Inventions, ideas and innovations which have helped create the economic world we live in.

Inventions, ideas and innovations which have helped create the economic world we live in.
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Location:

United Kingdom

Networks:

BBC

Description:

Inventions, ideas and innovations which have helped create the economic world we live in.

Language:

English


Episodes

Postage stamp

7/21/2019
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In the mid-19th Century, a man named Rowland Hill got fed up with how Britain's postal service worked, and decided to come up with a new system of his own. It would go on to change the world.

Duration:00:10:07

Rubber

7/14/2019
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Rubber is an everyday substance with a controversial past. Tim Harford tells the story of the innovations that made it a hot property, and the surge in demand that led to turmoil and bloodshed in an African colony.

Duration:00:09:59

CubeSat

7/7/2019
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CubeSat started life as a student engineering challenge: build a satellite that can fit in a little toy box. But now, as Tim Harford explains, these tiny satellites are changing the way we use space – and economics.

Duration:00:09:56

Factory

6/28/2019
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Tim Harford charts the history of the factory, from "dark, Satanic mills" to the sprawling industrial parks where today's consumer goods are assembled. Have factories made workers' lives better - and what does their future look like?

Duration:00:08:59

Blockchain

6/23/2019
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Billions are being poured into startups working on blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin. Supporters say it could become as disruptive as the internet. But how can we tell if they're right?

Duration:00:10:47

Pencil

6/16/2019
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Is the pencil underrated? Tim Harford examines the role pencils have played in developing our world, and finds out why some writers have called them a "miracle of the free market". Do they have a point?

Duration:00:10:39

'Like' button

6/9/2019
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Facebook’s 'like' button is ubiquitous across the web. It’s how user data is collected, meaning adverts and newsfeeds can be targeted more effectively. Some say there’s nothing to worry about, but others point to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, suggesting how Facebook might shape our opinions. But is there something else we should be worried about? Approval from our friends and family can be addictive – so is the pursuit of “likes” on social media the reason we’re glued to our mobile...

Duration:00:08:59

Dwarf wheat

6/2/2019
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The Population Bomb, published by Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich in 1968, predicted that populations would grow more quickly than food supplies, causing mass starvation. Ehrlich was wrong: food supplies kept pace. And that’s largely due to the years Norman Borlaug spent growing different strains of wheat in Mexico. The 'green revolution' vastly increased yields of wheat, corn and rice. Yet, as Tim Harford describes, worries about overpopulation continue. The world’s population is still...

Duration:00:09:00

Pornography

5/26/2019
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Did pornography help develop the internet? And has the internet made it more difficult for porn producers to make money? From photography, to cable television, to the video cassette recorder, there’s a theory that pornography users are some of the earliest adopters of new technology. Five in six images shared on the Usenet discussion group in the 1990s were pornographic, one study claimed. But, as Tim Hartford describes, the internet has made it easier for people to access pornography, but...

Duration:00:08:59

Recycling

5/19/2019
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Could recycling to save money be the answer to saving the planet? For decades, wealthy countries have been shipping their waste to China for sorting and recycling. Now China is getting wealthier, it no longer wants to be a dumping ground. So could we take another look at the cold, hard cash that recycling generates? After all, the idea it’s a moral obligation is relatively new and, as Tim Harford says, for centuries people reused and recycled to save money, not the environment.

Duration:00:10:34

Spreadsheet

5/12/2019
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A grid on a computer screen took the world of accountancy by storm in the early 1980s, making many accounting tasks effortless. But should we consider this 'robot accountant' more carefully? As Tim Harford explains, the digital spreadsheet is a 40-year-old example of what automation could do to all of our jobs.

Duration:00:10:31

Brick

5/5/2019
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'I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble,' Caesar Augustus apparently boasted. If so, he wasn’t the only person to dismiss the humble brick. They’ve housed us for tens of thousands of years. They are all rather similar – small enough to fit into a human hand, and half as wide as they are long – and they are absolutely everywhere. Why, asks Tim Harford, are bricks still such an important building technology, how has brickmaking changed over the years, and will we ever see a...

Duration:00:09:52

Mail order catalogue

4/28/2019
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Some say the Montgomery Ward shopping catalogue is one of the most influential books in US history. It transformed the middle-class way of life in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Ward struggled to get people to understand mail order shopping. His prices were so low, people thought there was a catch. Soon, though, this type of retail would improve roads and the postal service. Tim Harford describes how similar dynamics are changing today’s middle-classes in China, with the internet...

Duration:00:08:58

Bicycle

4/21/2019
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The bicycle was to prove transformative. Cheaper than a horse, it freed women and young working class people to roam free. And the bike was the testing ground for countless improvements in manufacturing that would later lead to Henry Ford’s production lines. Tim Harford considers whether the bicycle has had its day, or whether it’s a technology whose best years lie ahead.

Duration:00:08:59

QWERTY

4/14/2019
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The QWERTY keyboard layout has stood the test of time, from the clattering of early typewriters to the virtual keyboard on the screen of any smart-phone. Myths abound as to why keys are laid out this way – and whether there are much better alternatives languishing in obscurity. Tim Harford explains how this is a debate about far more than touch-typing: whether the QWERTY keyboard prospers because it works, or as an immovable relic of a commercial scramble in the late 19th century, is a...

Duration:00:08:59

Bonus 4: Woodpecker and black box

4/14/2019
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The last bonus episode of our new podcast. For more, search for 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter and subscribe. Or find it here: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals This one is about a bird’s remarkable skull and the quest to protect aeroplane flight recorders. #30Animals

Duration:00:14:57

Gyroscope

4/7/2019
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When the HMS Victory sank in 1744, with it went an inventor named John Serson and a device he’d dreamed up. He called it the “whirling speculum”, but we now know the basic idea as a gyroscope. Serson thought it could help sailors to navigate when they couldn’t see the horizon. Nowadays gyroscopes are tiny and, as Tim Harford describes, they are used to guide everything from submarines to satellites, from rovers on Mars to the phone in your pocket. They are also integral to drones – a...

Duration:00:09:00

Bonus 3: Mosquito and surgical needle

4/7/2019
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Episode 3 of our new podcast: the story of the blood-sucking pest and a pain-free surgical needle. Scientists have been studying the mosquito’s mouthparts. Could the dreaded ‘prick’ of a needle soon be a thing of the past? With Patrick Aryee. Find it here: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals

Duration:00:15:11

Cellophane

3/31/2019
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Plastic food packaging often seems obviously wasteful. But when Jacques Brandenberger invented cellophane, consumers loved it. It helped supermarkets go self-service, and it was so popular Cole Porter put it in a song lyric. Nowadays, people worry that plastic doesn’t get recycled enough but there are two sides to this story. Plastic packaging can protect food from being damaged in transit, and help it stay fresh for longer. Should we care more about plastic waste or food waste? As Tim...

Duration:00:09:26

Bonus 2: Octopus and camouflage

3/31/2019
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Episode 2 of our new podcast, 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter. This one is about the eight-limbed master of disguise and surveillance technology. The colour and texture-changing abilities of the octopus are helping researchers with developments in camouflage. Can we make robots do the same thing? With Patrick Aryee. www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals #30Animals

Duration:00:13:30