Thursday, October 04, 2007

REBUILDING EVERYTHING! A proposed reality show.

Over at the Lifeboat Foundation, where we contemplate dour and dire scenarios about the collapse of civilization, there's been an interesting sub-topic: knowledge caching, or how we might preserve the software of human civilization, even if we blow it really big, sometime.

ARCHITECHSWell, it was time to turn the political lamp off for a bit and throw out there something cool, sci-fi-ish and fun. So, would you folks like to see the pitch I prepared, years ago, for a reality/tech TV show called REBUILDING EVERYTHING?

(BTW, it is still WGA registered and copyrighted!)

Alas, my pitches for this were no more successful than my brief but fun stint as a TV star in THE ARCHITECHS.  What ever happened to guts and imagination?


A reality TV pitch... by David Brin...


Imagine a "reality" TV show with a more elevated aim and loads of attractive content for the mind... but also heaps of tension and drama.

Picture "Survivor" meets "The 1900 House" meets "Junkyard Wars"... then throw in lots of fascinating Discovery Channel riffs... along with a dash of "The Flintstones". Then add a sensation that viewers are actually learning something of value, becoming a little more capable and knowing about their own culture.

In the ultimate challenge, competitive teams race each other, starting from scratch to rebuild civilization!

Participants begin almost naked, except for a handheld web-communicator device -- a top-end, broadband web accessory -- that lets them consult with "the gods"... in other words with experts anywhere in the world. Editors will splice these capsule "how to" lessons with contestants' fumbling efforts to follow the advice.

Instead of just surviving, they must chip flint, make spears and arrows and traps, stitch clothing from hides (no animals will be killed directly by the show). Once the Stone Age has been conquered, the contestants move on to re-invent pottery, weaving and agriculture -- then mining and smithing copper ore, then bronze, iron and so on. Any next step must be taken by using technologies achieved at the previous level.

Once they succeed at a task, it is assumed that their “civilization” (their team) has that technology from then on. They will be provided any tools they require from that level, in order to attempt the next. (A ready supply of primitive tools can be found, easily available, from many amateur groups online. And more support groups may be spawned by the show itself.)

Upon mastering, say, five era-appropriate technologies, each team may be confronted with some tough challenge. For example, after forging bronze swords and armor, they may have to fight off a symbolic enemy from Homeric times... (or at least prove that they could). Or maybe build a Trojan Horse! Bridge a stream. Bring water to the village. Anything that is both dramatic and focused on the era in question.

Nor will culture be neglected! Each tribe will be encouraged to create their own distinctive arts, music, fables, so that viewer identification can get woven even tighter. In fact, a village may arise as they progress, showing how far 'civilization' has come along. (See note, below, about the possible availability of scads of free crafts and labor. As the village progresses from Neolithic upward, the resulting "town" might make a great exhibit/attraction.)

Needless to say, the scenario is open-ended. Promise of even tougher challenges may help keep people glued. Can the teams (and producers!) manage to make this premise work all the way to the electric light and motor? (And somehow keep up drama amid the tech-challenges?) How about building a working steam boat, then piloting it upstream? Or constructing a real working car, from nature's own raw materials! (Time frames may be telescoped as we progress.)

512RSo7JfRL._SL500_AA300_This part captures some of the feel of TLC's popular show JUNKYARD WARS. Only in our case, they start from raw ore!

The dramatic/competitive scenario; as I picture it, nobody is "voted off" the teams. Rather, each week's winning tribe is allowed to recruit more members as they go along, perhaps from eager show-watchers who send in tapes of their skills. (A more pleasant and positive arrangement.) Or else they can "steal" members from other teams. The growing tribe will need MORE capability and cooperation as time passes, not less! Also, this gives viewers an ongoing hope/fantasy - that next week THEY will be chosen to join one of the tribes.

As teams grow, tension may arise from trade, as they need to barter or buy things from each other, filling in skills they never conquered. Perhaps simulated conflict? After a successful 1st season, might international teams bring in multicultural flavor, showing various “solutions” with an Asian or African tilt? (They might participate remotely with collaborating production teams in, say, China, paying their own way.)

An ideal sponsor might be one of the mobile wireless technology companies those positioning themselves for the next big thing, like that 'tablet for communicating with the gods." Participants would of course use their brand of access, and every look-up/advice session would be a incredibly vivid and convincing product placement. Other advertisers who might like this show include tool makers, folks selling encyclopedias and How-To book series, etc.

Of course, civilization has a whole load of stuff that people might like to see the contestants "rebuild". Moreover the fantasy is a constructive one that many decent people can identify with. Picture our charismatic host, at the beginning of each episode, promising that "1,000 copies of this show will be buried at strategic locations around the world, just in case our descendants ever need to REBUILD EVERYTHING!"

On a cerebral level, consider the benefits of showing people how a complex civilization is held together not only by a myriad present-day skills, but also via connections made by the clever and hardworking ancestors who got us here. It will show that at least some of us (the show's viewers) might be able to rebuild, if they ever had to, from scratch.

In several ways this show will be about the best in us. That may appeal to countless folks who would like to see how we made it this far.

      =====     =====

Addenum notes:
Methods for keeping costs down might include having private amateur clubs provide many of the materials, perhaps building portions of the villages. They might even stage the event on their own time, expense and schedule, with cameras present more as news coverage than as producers. This, in turn, might keep liability issues down.

Who would want to watch? Wide demographics! DIY types who enjoy "this old house", armchair historians, and teachers looking for things to show in classrooms.

-----David Brin
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Anonymous said...

This is what a reality TV show SHOULD be like.

As it stands, it's far too intelligent. It would appeal to practical people who think and build rather than shop and spend.

"Reality" TV as actually implemented is all about good-looking extroverts with vivid personalities put in situations where they can snipe at each other, over-emote, and play popularity games.

JuhnDonn said...

Dude, not only would I watch this, I'd sign up to be on it. As a long time SCA'er, with a shop full of "I wonder if I can build it like they did?" projects, I'd be in seventh heaven.

Anonymous said...

I like it!

BTW, one of the main problems I have with problems like Junkyard Wars is that they downplay the importance of numbers. JW had any number of hydraulic devices, for example, but they never mentioned the numbers that make them work. (Conservation of energy + simple arithmetic.) Mythbusters is a textbook illustration of the old saw that "a few months in the lab can often save a couple of hours in the library."

TV producers, unfortunately, as a class seem to be terrified of numbers and convinced that everybody else is, too.

David Brin said...

I generally agree with Stefan about just about everything (except my personality, which I think is just fine ;-) But, in this case, I gotta chide.

Except for News - which has plummeted to unexpected depths of lying depravity - Television is generally better than most of us expected, at the dawn of the massive-cable era. Look at the listings carefully. More than half of the channels appear to be DAUGHTERS OF PBS!

In that PBS used to be the only place where you'd find content remotely like Animal Planet, Discovery, TCM, HGN, History and so on.

As for reality TV... Yes, SURVIVOR and its ilk are silly and KID NATION is creepy. But even those two offer quasi wholesome/interesting challenges, between the soap opera BS.

But beyond that, try counting the NUMBER of different nonfiction/reality shows that are awful/exploitive vs the number that actually have some merit. Yes, the schlock has big viewer numbers. But MYTHBUSTERS and MODERN MARVELS and HOW IT'S MADE have one big advantage... they are incredibly cheap to produce! It turns out that the good stuff is very inexpensive to make, while glossy garbage takes a lot of cash to put on the screen.

Who'd a thunk it?

About as surprising as finding "conservatives" supporting a utopian, budget-busting program of nation-building while demolishing the armed forces and destroying competitive free enterprise. Talk about a sci fi scenario!

Tony Fisk said...

OK. Where does 'Tribes' come into this?

A couple of years ago, there was a show dedicated to the ingenuity displayed by a few aboriginal lads in keeping their cars going in the Australian outback.

Bush Mechanics

What they did with and to those vehicles was simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.

This isn't the same as your proposal (and certainly not as extreme). But it was about 'making do' and certainly bought the cultural side into it. Brush up on your Warlpiri! You might need it one day.

Alex Tolley said...

I like the idea. I've often said that I wouldn't survive the apocalypse because, as a city boy, I haven't the first clue how to actually grow crops and harvest them. Most of my skills require quite a high level of civilization. So a show that shows how various key technologies could be mastered from scratch (I would use books as the depository)by naives, would be most interesting to me.

Pity you weren't able to fire some imaginations.

Anonymous said...

Might be more interesting if there weren't a fixed path they had to recreate - just a number of long-range functional goals to achieve and occasional challenges. See what short-cuts they can come up with to re-boot civilization.

And instead of "gods", have half of each team be at competitive high-tech engineering schools with full access to information, while the other half is "on site". Both halves get to plot technological tactics, both can run experiments - but those on-site have to do it for real.

Wrap it in a sci-fi scenario - maybe half the team got sucked through an experimental interstellar wormhole with nothing more than what they had in their pockets, and have only intermittant communications through the wormhole to the rest of the team.

psychegram said...

I've gotta say, I hate most reality TV shows (with the exception of MythBusters and Junkyard Wars), but I'd be a devoted fan of this if it ever got off the ground.

Find enough ways to bring costs down, and maybe you could do it all through webcasting, with viewers donating as they see fit. Seems more likely than convincing any of the networks to pony up the cash.

Woozle said...

For what it's worth, I think it's an excellent idea as well.

A question I find myself thinking about a lot (for a couple of decades at least): If the main infrastructure of civilization were to go away, for whatever reason, what is the information we would need in order to rebuild it as quickly as possible? Why isn't there a collection of this information online anywhere?

Wikipedia comes the closest, perhaps (I'm sure I would find myself wishing fervently for a hand-crank-powered laptop with a clone of Wikipedia, in this scenario), but it is intended more as a reference ("what is a forge?") rather than a practical guide ("how do I forge iron?").

One of the reasons I set up was in the hope of eventually having exactly that sort of information there. I'm not in possession of much of that kind of information myself, but anyone who is is more than welcome to post pages on what they do know, and I'll tidy 'em up and make sure they're findable.

The weekly activities on Rebuilding Everything would certainly provide excellent starting material for how-to articles on rebuilding civilization.

Anonymous said...

Cool! There are a slew of re-enactor societies in this country who would love to fill you in on medieval technology and mountain-man era technology. I once suggested that a few hundred years down the road there would be Machine Age re-enactment societies, only to be told they exist today. If you collaborate, Michael Flynn and Steve Stirling would make fabulous collaborators since they have both given the pre-Machine-Age technologies a lot of thought.

Doug said...

Speaking as a geek who's hobby is blacksmithing and knifemaking, this sounds neat. I've been experimenting with smelting iron for a while, and can tell you it can be done using very primitive implements, but still takes a lot of knowledge to get iron out of what amounts to dirt and rock.

And, I've got to say, the show will need some people good with their hands, experienced in shaping things. Getting a piece of hot iron to take the shape you want is much harder than it sounds -- all the more so if you're improvising hammers and anvils, and working with iron that's half slag and of unknown carbon content.


David Brin said...

Has anyone noticed
getting slagged with a websense "malicious" label?


Anonymous said...

No, but isn't websense a matter of one's own firewall? From my home PC, nothing is blocked.

But the url isn't there's no www in front. Could that be the issue? I honestly don't know much about firewalls/websense stuff.

Anonymous said...

Assuming we have one or more successful tribes, can we have a stage or two where we send them down a technology path that has no historical references? I am thinking of of "The Road Not Taken" by Harry Turtledove. Although I doubt they would discover something so outlandish, it would add to the drama to see what they can achieve in a wild goose chase.

--The Bungle Lord

Anonymous said...

While the BEST of television is better than it's ever been, and cable has introduced a huge variety of new content venues, I maintain that "reality TV" is on the whole a wretched waste.

There are a few gems -- Mythbusters comes to mind -- but most lard out a few minutes of interesting stuff with human interest stuff of very low quality.

And even Mythbusters was changed to include more hosts with "perky appeal." Ugh!

I'd probably in a better mood if I hadn't watched, while visiting my parents, an awful thing called Designer Challenge.

David Brin said...

Hey, the perky one helps keep my daughter glued. I need that assist.

BTW out there. How could I put on this show via cheap web processes, if I can't even find a few guerilla performers to help me save America, by creating that "Reagan-Bush, Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush" piece of political theater?

Save America. It might. Seriously, dudes.

Unknown said...

I don't watch very much television, except for some sports or occasional CSPAN or PBS fare.

So not only have no clue about all the shows coworkers discuss and what appeals to the masses, I don't get most of the stuff on TV, and it grows less appealing when their content is described to me. Reality shows strike me as specially silly, as they are definitely not "reality", rather contrived and choreographed.

It's kind of like the silly random races they run on the sports stadium scoreboards (or by costumed mascots) where ketchup, mustard and relish race toward the finish line and a brainless audience responds as if the contest outcome had an iota of significance.

Anonymous said...

Great idea. We could use more shows that educate and entertain (I think Amazing race does this "somewhat" as least people learn geography). Now just to get someone to buy it...THP

TheRadicalModerate said...

This sounds like it might be a really useful MMPORG. If you could keep the simulation software ahead of the contestants, you might actually get some interesting data on where a rebuilding effort would have problems.

On the other hand, I can't imagine why you couldn't get a green light on a TV show whose pitch had the phrase "nearly naked contestants" in it...

Xactiphyn said...

This is certainly a show I'd watch, but no big shock there. It isn't like this blog readership is a general cross section of Americana.

One of my little fantasies is imagining myself somehow responsible for creating the new Bible for a new civilization. What do I put in it that won't just be corrupted by future generations? How do I put scientific information in there without also making it sound like dogma. Kind of a fun, if worthless, puzzle to contemplate. (Yea, I'm weird.)

I'm not sure why people are surprised at the high quality of TV available right now. There are two or three factors pushing this.

1) The more channels available, the more fine grained one can make the programming. Sure, 99% of it is junk, but the other 1% was custom make just for me! There is no reason my 1% needs to be the same as yours.

2) With DVD rentals, Tivo and web downloads available, it is easier to make episodes more serial as there are multiple ways for people to catch up. My daughter and I just started watching Smallville this summer and only have one season to go before we've caught up and can watch the two episodes waiting for us on Tivo.

3) ah, I had something... never mind. :-)

Many years ago I watched the original Real World and thought it was fun and interesting. The biggest problem with modern reality shows (well, ok, one of the many problems) is all the people on the show have seen zillions of others just like it. Its gone way to meta.

I don't think I would call Mythbusters a reality show, though, anymore than the other great science show Good Eats.

Anonymous said...

Hate to break up the brief apolitical mood, but this article on Saudi efforts to control the Arab media should be of interest:

Gary S. Hurd said...

You would have to exclude archaeology graduate students, and even most undergrads.

Trey said...

Here's a (unrealistic) variation.

3 teams:
Modern Americans (information age), Amish (steam age); some isolated Amazonian tribe (bronze age? neolithic?), you would need a gatekeeper that spoke their language.

Otherwise, same set-up.

Gary S. Hurd said...

I fully expect much of Brin's proposed "reality show" to become the reality in at most a few decades. Sort of like years long, world wide Katrinas.

Anonymous said...

You know who you SHOULD have pitched this to first? Sid Meier! Call it "Civilization: The Show" or something. Maybe if you'd licensed the name of the greatest strategy game of all time, it'd have been easier to sell. Of course, down the slippery slope of licensing lies the ultimate sell-out: product placement with Taco Bell...


Jess Mink said...

Oh man. I'd love to be on that show. I'd watch it if I couldn't be.

For a brief bit of this you can look at Victorian Farm by the BBC. They don't make much, but they do try and live like Victorians for a year with the help of experts.