In a new series, the poet Paul Farley re-imagines technology we rely on but take for granted, taking the listener on unexpected journeys into technological environments.
From subsea fibre optics to heart valve surgery to cash in transit Paul makes us think again about the less seen but vital places and systems that make our world tick. Within these places, often hidden in plain sight, he meets the people who tend them and listens to the humming, buzzing and hissing reality of their technological lives. In each programme he writes a poem, as a response to each environment.
1. Deepwater Light
We all use the internet, but where exactly is it? Is it the cloud, is it wireless, is it satellite? First and foremost it's fibre optic cables that criss-cross the globe over land and especially under sea, joining up the continents. Paul slows down the lightspeed journey of an email, imagining it travelling from New York to London circling wrecks and deep sea abysses, pleasure beaches and roundabouts. Along the way he hears from the lighthouse keepers that maintain the connections, the cable layers on the high seas and the engineers who decode the light back into information.
We expect an ATM to immediately serve up our cash, but how did that note get there? Where was it last week and where will it be tomorrow or the next day? Paul follows the life cycle of a ten pound note from its birthplace on the Bank of England's printing press, gains rare access to one of the cash processing centres hidden from sight in our cities which warehouse hundreds of millions of pounds. He follows the money as it's distributed to ATMs and retailers, to our pocket and back again until the note is withdrawn from circulation and is turned into the most valuable compost in the world.
3. Opening the Valve
In an odyssey of a different kind, Paul follows the journey of a heart valve from its manufacturers in Milan to a patient in the UK. One in twenty of us will suffer from valve complications in later life and that figure is rising as the population ages. Paul explores the technology behind artificial heart valves and the sophisticated surgery involved when they are replaced. It's exactly 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci devised the first prosthetic heart valve, also in Milan, and Paul reflects on the story of this miraculous piece of technology which can give people a second life.
Produced by Neil McCarthy.