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Immaculate Telegraphy and Restarting Civilization

What if one day you woke up after the apocalypse and had to put the world back together again? Would you be able to do it?

In 2009 Substitute Materials set out to test whether they could re-create a telegraph without using modern tools. The only resource they gave themselves was whatever they could find on the ground. By using sticks, stones, and other grounded objects they could have constructed a complex telegraphic network back in the stone age!

The question Immaculate Telegraphy hypothesized is this:
Could humans at any point in history, given the right information, construct an electronic communication network? To test this hypothesis, Substitute Materials will attempt to build a functional electric battery and telegraph switch from materials found in the wilderness, using no modern tools except information from the internet. The telegraph will be a first step towards an ahistorical internet.

Below is the first of several “How to” videos. I love that the guy in the video is wearing a suit in the wilderness. Nice touch.

I always wonder what I would have been able to invent or do had it not been given to me already. Computers… probably not. Light… nope. Light a fire… probably could figure that one out. When I think about who I would want to have around me if I were to survive an apocalypse I always end up thinking: I wouldn’t have picked me. Don’t get me wrong ~ I think I’m a pretty cool guy, but I have no idea what kinds of things I could eat in the wild, nor do I cook very well, nor do have a green thumb. So even on the simplest terms I’m not super useful. Then there is building technology from scratch, and well I’m a semi-lateral thinker… Probably could be a decent philosopher.

Suffice to say that our society is interdependent, and basically everything I do is built on constructs that have been in progress since thousands of years ago.

As Ming says from his blog:
It was hundreds a years ago since there last were people around who were experts in all major fields at the same time. Today we’re a society of specialists who most of them would be helpless and useless if it weren’t for a whole bunch of other specialists. It is a fragile system. Civilization could very well collapse if it got a big enough bump.

The simplest things seem ludicrously difficult, and I’m not sure anybody at Intel could put Humpty back together again. I mean if you got some of the old boys from Sun Microsystems, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs ~ could they make computers from scratch? How about making copper? That’s what they do in the video below.

Thinking about it now: We really should be giving people basic tutorials on restarting civilization. We should be able to, as a society, at least get back to 1880 in a as little as a decade if we lost everything. Maybe that’s too lofty of a goal, but the people who supported this project at the Eyebeam Honorary Residency seem to see the value. Found the original article that interested me in the subject here.

3 thoughts on “Immaculate Telegraphy and Restarting Civilization”

  1. Jenny says:

    Good call Juan, and very entertaining.

    First things first, people in today’s society probably don’t have the attention span to go through all the steps it takes to create modern luxuries. I could barely get through the 1st video (although I did get to the part where his axe breaks and I had myself a good chuckle).

    Secondly, if we are to presume that there will be suits in the apocalypse, there will also probably be broken forms of modern conveniences. So, on the day of the apocalypse, stick with me good friend and we’ll loot car batteries like real survivors.

    Thirdly, I remember a day in Girl Scouts where they had us make simple batteries and power-switches using copper and nails. I’m sure I could do that again (and further proof that the Scouts are amazing – always be prepared). Plus, who needs a telegraph anyways! Give me two cans and some string and I’ll fashion you a phone. Take that Samuel Morse!

  2. Jenny says:

    Good call Juan, and very entertaining.

    First things first, people in today’s society probably don’t have the attention span to go through all the steps it takes to create modern luxuries. I could barely get through the 1st video (although I did get to the part where his axe breaks and I had myself a good chuckle).

    Secondly, if we are to presume that there will be suits in the apocalypse, there will also probably be broken forms of modern conveniences. So, on the day of the apocalypse, stick with me good friend and we’ll loot car batteries like real survivors.

    Thirdly, I remember a day in Girl Scouts where they had us make simple batteries and power-switches using copper and nails. I’m sure I could do that again (and further proof that the Scouts are amazing – always be prepared). Plus, who needs a telegraph anyways! Give me two cans and some string and I’ll fashion you a phone. Take that Samuel Morse!

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