Posts Tagged ‘j.j. abrams’

If you’ve been watching any of the olympics on NBC then chances are you have been bombarded by commercials for their upcoming show “Revolution” in which people try to survive in a world without power.  From the teasers the show looks more or less like a post-apocalypse survivalist story years after the world suddenly lost power, perhaps something along the lines of The Walking Dead.  However, unlike your typical zombie apocalypse there’s no real reason given as to how the people found themselves in this situation.  Zombies and robots destroying society is understandable but how does power just suddenly go out?  At first people were explaining it as a world-wide electromagnetic pulse that would render everything electronic useless.  After reading a bit more about the show I found that it couldn’t be the case; the show takes places 15 years after the initial outage and in the mean time nobody has been able to generate electricity at all, not even from batteries, and one source describes it as a world without “advanced technology.”  Therefore during the show, people are fighting with medieval style swords, crossbows, and longbows.

The show’s producer, J.J. Abrams, has defended the show by saying that answers as to why the apocalypse happened will be provided yet unless those answers involve an entire reworking of the physical laws of the universe nothing can be answered.  An EMP or something that would similarly disable electricity would not stall all cars or cause planes to fall from the sky.  Nor would it make guns useless or instantly kill off anyone with a bachelor’s degree in physics.  Advanced technology is only how we define it.  Does it include anything after the Industrial Revolution?  Diesel engines apparently are off limits in the world but what about steam engines?  People can certainly still build fires for energy.  Maybe the show plays by Amish rules where only a certain level of technology is allowed, but like the Amish it can only be established arbitrarily.

Here’s my guess about this show: Abrams and others saw the popularity of post-apocalypse shows like The Walking Dead and saw the popularity of Medieval-themed shows like Game of Thrones and said, “I think we can somehow combine the two.  What  if there’s an apocalypse where afterwards, people live like it’s the middle ages again?”  Someone else would undoubtedly counter with, “Well what kind of apocalypse could possibly lead to that scenario?”  J.J. Abrams would calmly respond, “Who the fuck cares about that, we’ll just make it like Lost.  We don’t need to answer anything, we’ll just trick the audience into thinking we’re great writers and just make up shit as we go along.”  In other words, this show will be another Ponzi scheme; they don’t have answers because no natural ones could possibly exist, they could appeal to the supernatural, but at that point the show will lose all meaning as everything becomes possible.

The point is that in the history of technology there are no distinct episodes of technological eras.  There’s not one key that will take us back to a previous one, nor could we even return to an earlier technological time if we wanted to.  Technologies are interacting webs of hardware, technical knowledge, tacit knowledge, and cultural significance.  Chemists today struggle to recreate alchemical experiments because of impurities in the original substances those in turn caused by different mining methods in different regions.  “Advanced technology” is almost without meaning in the history of technology and can really only be measured as to how recently it has been developed or used.  Most modern farming techniques can not even be broken down by individual technologies but comprise a whole inter-related system of knowledge and hardware, completely different yet still vaguely related from crop production 200 years ago.  Destroying the more modern one will not take it back to its predecessor but will create an entirely new system, and so if it is not going back in time, then the new system could easily be called more advanced than the modern one we know.


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