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The Philosophy of "Primitive Technology"

The Philosophy of "Primitive Technology"

About two years ago, I stumbled across a mysterious YouTube channel called Primitive Technology. Run by a man who dresses only in shorts and, presumably, underwear, the channel has gathered millions of active subscribers (7.7 million) and half a billion views. The channel has a mere 36 videos—ranging from 4 to 14 minutes long—that have managed to attract and sustain an ogling audience for three years come May 1st. In his videos, he constructs quote "primitive huts and tools from scratch using only natural materials in the wild." The man has never actually spoken in any of his videos, or much acknowledged the camera. He is not famous, or brilliant, but his content manages to be oddly original and powerful.

This is my favorite video of his. He makes a tiled roof hut out of dirt, water, sticks, fire, and some other elements.

Primitive Technology reveals the espial nature of a simple, "primitive" lifestyle. The term "primitive" is in quotes because it refers to the Primitivism movement.

Primitivism: noun. a belief in the value of what is simple and unsophisticated, expressed as a philosophy of life or through art or literature.
— google

The channel also manipulates some of the unaesthetic traits of Faux-Naïve art—where Naïve art describes art created by a person who lacks the formal education and training that a professional artist undergoes, yielding art known for its frankness/simplicity/rudimentary-expression-of-perspective/children's-drawings-aesthetic and Faux- (or pseudo-) describing when this aesthetic is utilized self-consciously by a professional artist. In effect, the Faux-Naïve artist creates art that attempts to appear as though it was created by a Naïve artist—though the artist is in reality only feigning in order to create a product that can gain trust, and persuade, its audience. The effect is an art that appears agenda-less, transparent.

Each video guides viewers through the progress of one or more projects demonstrating the techniques and methods he uses to create tools or buildings, as he explains on his blog, he builds “completely from scratch using no modern tools or materials”, only using what he can source from his natural environment, such as plant materials, clay, soil, and stones. Episodes of the series contain no speaking, and only minimal ambient sound. Text descriptions of actions on-screen appear in the closed-caption feature.
— https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Primitive_Technology

The channel is entirely "show, don't tell." It is what Indie music attempts to be—an authentic look into the life and perspective of someone unique and interesting. He makes full use of the senses: if you close your eyes while watching his videos, you can hear the squishy churning of clay, dirt, and water in his hands, the "pock"-ing sound of his makeshift stone axe hitting against a tree, the roar or popping of his self-built fire. And what is primitive technology but artificial-less? Besides the camera and his minimal clothing, there is nothing but a man and his devices. 

The structure is completely linear, causal, you pretty much can tell what he's up to without much context. Once he demonstrates how he creates one thing—a fire, a stick, a tile for his roof—he never has to re-demonstrate how he makes them. For instance, in order to make one tile for his roof, he must. . . 

  1. Create his axe
  2. Create a fireplace with a grate
  3. Create a fire to dry out his clay fireplace + grate
  4. Create a tile-mold from a stick and bark-twine
  5. Mix clay, rock-dust, and dirt to create the correct tile consistency,
  6. Put the mix into the tile-mold
  7. Fire up that tile

Then the video skips to him in the process of him baking 20 tiles in the fireplace, and putting them up on the roof. Then it skips to him having made and baked 100 tiles. The long process of making tiles is completely removed, so we ourselves never have to endure the boredom of having to wait for it to be done. Immediate gratification. In 14 minutes, we have watched all the gratifying parts of the authentic process of creating a primitive tile-roofed hut from scratch, ending with the closure of its completion.

His videos return us to some form of childlike fascination with primitive autonomy. It reminds me of the children's book Roxaboxen

51TymjJl2DL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
In a small U.S. frontier town, children play around the wilderness in the fictional town of Roxaboxen. In there they imagine life as a traditional town, complete with a grocery store, a restaurant, and many other imagined commodities. As the years pass, the children grow, and in their old age, remember the town, each in their own way.
— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roxaboxen

Through their work and imagination, the children

  • Designed their own plots of land and houses with white pebbles
  • Found rare "desert glass" and constructed a "house of jewels"
  • Formed relationships with one another
  • Pretended that sticks are horses, and have huge wars with one another
  • Created beautiful, flourishing gardens for themselves

The book revives childhood imagination and community and confronts us with the question: what makes life meaningful? The children run off to make their own communities and "houses" and play together, and then 50 years later one of the children reflects back upon that time. The book notes that none of the children ever forgot about Roxaboxen. It all seems like an allusion to Ozymandias, and the fading/rememberence of civilization. The book is naïve and wonderful, filled with imagery such as the colors of desert glass collected to build a shimmering house. Is this children's book not a form of "Primitivism," too? Does it not show the simple and unsophisticated pleasures of life? 

Primitive Technology affords us a glance into a simpler form of life. Whereas the modern world is filled with boredom, and taxes, and schoolwork, and awkward social interactions, and frustration, the world we peer into through these videos is calm and sincere. He does not ask for or demand attention. His content is for the purposes of entertainment and art and to share what he loves. Whether there is an agenda, or whether that type of entertainment offers false or too-simple solutions, is up to you to decide. Personally, I think his channel distances us from the modern world and offers an entertaining look into a more simple perspective.

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