We spoke to the man behind the data, Pete Harvey, to find out more about The Global Change Calculator.
Can you sum up the project?
Douglas Adams understood inventions. He told us that anything already in the world when you’re born is ordinary, anything invented between 15 and 35 you could probably get a career in, and anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things. He was born in the 1950s, just before the arrival of the transistor radio, but his words are just as relevant today.
The world has changed lots within living memory. Diseases that our grandparents lived in fear of we now read about in history books. But also consigned to history are the dozens of now-extinct species they could have seen for themselves.
With the Global Change Calculator, we wanted to give you a chance to explore how the world has changed in the years since your relatives were born. We hope that by telling stories about science and technology that are tailored to you and your family, we can make science and technology feel more real, relevant and inspiring. Have a go, and then tell us what you think.
Who made it?
The global change calculator was a collaboration between BBC Learning and the digital agency Joi Polloi. But it’s more than that. It launches under the umbrella of BBC Tomorrow’s World , and one of the big aims of the campaign is to explore how the BBC and Britain’s biggest scientific organisations can come together to tell stories. Many of the inventions we’ve included are on display in the Science Museum. We’re thrilled that Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, has written one of our accompanying feature articles.
What were the challenges?
Like all the best projects I’ve worked on for the BBC, the Global Change calculator had both editorial and design challenges.
As a team, we debated long and hard about which topics and data sets to include. There were dozens great stories from the past hundred and fifty years of science and technology that we could have told and didn’t – not because they weren’t significant but because there were so many other key changes happening at about the same time.
The format was a great opportunity to try and excite people about topics they might not ordinarily think about. We’ve added a lot of ‘hard science’ examples we wouldn’t have included if we were telling stories in different ways. But the format presented us with challenges too. We had long discussions in the office about how best to explain quantum mechanics in 400 characters. If you can do better, we’d love to know how.
From a design point of view, the wide range of ways we now access the internet presented a challenge. Our friends at Joi Polloi put a lot of thought into creating an experience that works just as well on large desktop monitors and on mobile screens. When you’re working with some of most inspiring images of the universe, you want to make them look as good as you can.
What do you hope to learn from it being on Taster?
The way we are consuming ‘documentary’ is changing. One of things the BBC wants to explore is how it can personalise content, and give users more control over how they find and share content that’s relevant to them. We’d really like to know if this personalised approach to telling stories excites people, inspires them to read more for themselves, and gets them talking about science and technology with their family and friends.