If I were lost in the woods, I would probably die after a few hours. I know nothing about wilderness survival.
Fortunately, I know someone who does. Well, kinda know. I’ve never met him. He lives in Australia. I live in Boston. But I watch his incredible skills on YouTube! He is The Man. (Seriously, commentators just call him “The Man” because he never reveals his name.)
The premise of the Primitive Technology channel on YouTube is rather simple. The Man makes items like charcoal, a bow and arrow, or a forge blower.1 He uses no modern tools or materials. His resourcefulness puts MacGyver to shame:
“Primitive” should be in scare quotes. Though The Man creates things with the simplest of materials, he uses great film equipment to produce sleek videos. He also learns many of his skills on the internet.
Primitive Technology is different from almost everything else on YouTube. The Man never speaks. The only sounds one hears are the rustling of leaves, the chirping of birds, or the chopping of wood.
I first learned about Primitive Technology from a relatively “primitive” form of communication – the essay. Jennifer Kahn in the New York Times writes:
Fans often describe the videos as meditative, or even therapeutic. (“Your videos are the most beautiful thing I have seen on the internet,” one person writes. “They make me feel serene. No talking and no rubbish — just plain, simple work.”) Watching them, especially amid the clamor of YouTube, can feel like leaving a crowded party and stepping out into the cool night air.
Kahn’s description fits my own experience of watching Primitive Technology. It also reminds me of one of Pope Benedict XVI’s messages for World Communications Day. He wrote:
Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God.
The Man does not overtly share the word of God in his videos; he’s busy acting like David and throwing rocks with a handcrafted sling. Still, unlike so much of what bombards my eyes and ears online, Primitive Technology makes me feel at peace.
Of course, Primitive Technology is sort of absurd. Rather than getting off my butt, going to the woods, and building something, I sit in the comfort of my home watching a carefully edited YouTube video of someone else doing work.
Perhaps even worse, I may feel like I have accomplished something when I’ve done jack squat.
Still, while technology often disconnects us from nature and from silence, The Man reminds us that it can also be used to reconnect us with God’s creation and a little more peace and quiet.
And Primitive Technology is not the only example of how we can find a peaceful place online. Apps like Calm have helped many of us get in the habit of meditation or centering prayer. Fr. James Martin and others have offered one-minute retreats that simply show off God’s handiwork:
Of course, actually spending time in our common home is far better than watching The Man build a tiled roof hut.2 Still, online sources that help me pause and rest a while can be part of a healthy digital diet.
And who knows, they may motivate me to turn off my computer and spend some time outside. They may even help me to pray.
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For an excellent but more negative take on our technology habits, check out Four Reasons NOT to Read This Article by Joe Simmons, SJ.