I was fascinated by this Discovery Channel series and its sister show, More Industrial Revelations, first time around, but watching omnibus runs over the weekend I was once again sucked in. Starting with the birth of the canals, series presenter Mark Williams, Harry Potter's Mr Weasley and star of the Fast Show, at a leisurely pace, begins the first series journeying through the early industrial landscapes of the Midlands and North of England by narrow boat. By the second series Steam has become king and the technologically determined nature of the industrial revolution takes over as the series plots how rapid scientific and technological developments of the 19th century turned cottage industries into factory and mill based entrepreneurial endeavours.
What fascinated me most I think was watching how the principles of Modern control technologies began to emerge, from this technologically determined and driven world. Factories functioning as machines where human elements acted as parts of a program, performing functions within a manufacturing process broken down into steps, or procedures, to be completed in the meticulously planned conversion of raw materials into finished products. The desire to improve efficiency and replication through mechanisation leading to the use of punch cards, and emergence of the first robots, not in late 20th century Italian car factories, but nineteenth Silk Weaving Mills. Machines programmed in simple binary "on or off" systems began to carry out the jobs of some factory employees based on the work of Joseph-Marie Jacquard , and enabled steam organs to play music in the fairground. HEY! a nineteenth century iPOD! This use of Binary Programming ultimately supported the birth of the electric telegraph using Morse Code another series of "on and off" patterns. Transmitted via the railway and transatlantic cable, time becomes relatively constant, and the world begins to shrink. It seems the more things change the more they stay the same, and only the medium really alters. A little something to ponder. If you get the chance these programs are well worth a watch, entertaining and thought provoking, and currently running on Discovery Civilizations.