The Spark Guide to Civilization

Each episode in this 10-part series is a deep dive into a single issue in society and how we've managed it over the course of civilization, through technological innovation and design.
Dwindling attention spans, nostalgic pangs, poor sleep habits, and more! (Michelle Parise/CBC)

In this 10-part series, Spark host Nora Young takes a single issue in society and explores how we've managed it over the course of civilization, through technological innovation and design.

How tech from the wheel to just-in-time delivery architecture changed the way humans have been able to move, expand their horizons and shrink their world. 

  • Spark's A Brief History of Getting Around

  • Why the bicycle is best, with Peter Walker, author of How Cycling Can Save The World

Listen and read more here

What the historical relationship between public health and public spaces can teach us as we move through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. 

  • Spark's A Brief History of Humans Trying to Not Be Too Hot or Too Cold but Just Right

  • Disease and the built environment, with Sara Jensen Carr, author, The Topography of Wellness

  • How to make healthier buildings, with sustainable architect Terrell Wong

  • Using heat to create sustainable cooling tech, with materials scientist Aaswath Raman

Listen and read more here

In times of crisis, it seems baked into our humanity to turn to retro and analog activities as a way to cope. Why is cultural nostalgia so often a reaction to the present time?

  • A Brief History of Spark Stories About How Analog Tech Was Better Than Digital Tech

  • The evolution of nostalgia, with Krystine Batcho, creator of the Nostalgia Inventory

  • The nostalgic pleasures of our past ideas of the future, with Paleofuture's Matt Novak

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Humans have always craved attention and applied tricks to gain the attention of others, so why does it feel so extra in the digital age? 

  • Spark's A Brief History of Our Brief Attention Spans

  • The evolution of our attention spans with psychology prof Thomas Hills

  • The allure of TikTok with artist Hima Batavia

  • The relationship between time, tech & attention, with media theorist Sarah Sharma

Listen and read more here

The notion of privacy has evolved over thousands of years and is tightly woven with power. What might that mean for our future?

  • Spark's A Brief History of the Brief History of Privacy

  • A philosophical look at privacy, with Carissa Véliz, author of Privacy is Power

  • Middle-class notions of privacy, with David Vincent, author of Privacy: A Short History

Listen and read more here

The origins and  ethics of creating disposable devices in a future of scarcity and climate change. 

  • Spark's A Brief History of Making Things Disposable So We Can Get New, Shinier Things

  • The politics of obsolescence, with Jonathan Sterne, author, MP3: The Meaning of a Format

  • Saying goodbye to obsolete audio recording equipment with journalist David Kattenburg

  • The future of planned obsolescence, with digital technology scholar Mohan Sawnhey

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From hieroglyphs to instant messaging, humans have been attempting to perfect the way we correspond with one another. And still, we love to hate to email.

  • Spark's A Brief History of Communications Tech

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Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it! Everybody sleeps. But how has the way we sleep evolved with the technology we've developed? 

  • Roger Ekirch's Not-so-brief History of How Our Sleep Patterns Have Evolved

  • New tech to help us sleep better, with clinical sleep specialist Amy Bender 

  • Spark producer Adam Killick tries out a home sleep analysis kit 

Listen and read more here

From the abacus to the explosive growth in computer tech following World War II, the history of computing laid the groundwork for today's innovations, such as using the brain as a model for computing.  

  • Spark's A Brief History of Early Computing (and the Women History Left Behind)

  • The growth of modern computing post-WWII, with the Smithsonian's Paul Ceruzzi

  • The future of neuromorphic computing with Stanford professor Kwabena Boahen

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As a technology, the glass lens has allowed us to correct our vision, see the furthest objects in the sky, and the smallest objects on the Earth. Oh, and there's photography and film as well. 

  • Spark's A Brief History of Magnification and the One Man Who Figured it All Out

  • The history of glass lenses, with Neil Handley of the British Optical Association Museum

  • Creating adaptable, affordable lenses with physicist Joshua Silver

Listen and read more here