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Programme four : Past v Future

Sunday 19 August, 1830BST BBC Two
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In the battle between the past and the future, technology is firmly on the side of the future.

Michael Lewis visits Britain's House of Lords, to find a class of people who depend on the past for their authority.

Earl Ferrers says: "You can't move into the future with any degree of solidity if you don't build on the past. I think that people disregard the past at their peril."

But not everyone agrees - Paul Romer, an economist from Stanford University, says the past and the future make uncomfortable bedfellows.

To keep on this trajectory, where we worship the future and build for it, we may have to tolerate a certain amount of disrespect for the past.  real 56k

Silicon Valley owes its whole existence to the promise of a better future.

The New 'New World'

Lewis sees the headquarters of America Online as "the heart of the new New World". He visits AOL's Operations Centre, from where global e-mail traffic is controlled.

Matt Peacock, AOL UK: "Our fundamental concept is to make AOL the operating system of life."  real 56k

On the other side of the Atlantic sits Ennis, a small town in Ireland, where the forces of past and future meet. Here, more of the population is on the internet than anywhere else in the world.

That's because the Irish phone company is doing an experiment there to see what happens when a whole community gets online.

Michael Byrne, who is in charge of the project, says there's a feeling of participating in a new revolution.

Michael Byrne: "On the surface, nothing seems to have changed, but between the ears, everything has changed."  real 56k

Lewis investigates the effect. Old people are learning about computers, traditional music shops are making their wares available worldwide, and even the church is presenting itself on the internet.

Father Tom Hogan says: "No matter how proficient we are on the PC and how tuned in we are to the e-mail and to the web, they are mighty and they bring great help to us, but they are no substitute for people and for family and for community."

The Ennis experience goes some way to answer fears that the internet will lead to a new world dominated by corporate America. Lewis argues that the new technology provides a bigger stage for local culture.

Putting things in perspective

Clock of the Long NowTo see where the computer industry's heart lies, Lewis visits the neglected computer museum of Silicon Valley. Here, once an invention has been superseded, it gathers dust. In the old world, it would have gathered respect.

And Lewis discovers the Clock of the Long Now, a project instigated by new technology leaders in the name of making us think further ahead. Thousands of years further ahead.

Dave Rooney, Science Museum: "It's getting people to think that far into the future."  real 56k

The idea is to build a clock that should run for ten thousand years on a remote mountainside in Nevada. Won't that give us a bit of perspective on our own little lives?

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