A lot of survival material that has made its way into mainstream media verges on dramatization. Bear Grylls of Man vs. Wild is informative and experienced, but the show continuously raises the stakes for viewership. Survivor (putting aside the question of its legitimacy) throws contestants extra challenges on top of those already posed by the environment. Naked and Afraid thrives on pairs that struggle to get along and the awkwardness of complete nudity. These television programs are not entirely to blame: audiences enjoy suspense. However, there is one man who has singlehandedly proven that one can build an audience on information alone. To make things more interesting, this man never speaks… only demonstrates.
The YouTube account “Primitive Technology” has a simple premise: one man with a camera constructs huts, tools, and building materials out of raw materials he finds in the wilderness. He makes pottery, sandals, and traps for animals; he even shows viewers how to plant their own sustenance. This man, clad in only his signature pair of dirty, grey cargo shorts, forgoes all modern tools when making his structures, even pocketknives.
Perhaps the most significant tool that he does not utilize is his voice. All of the videos are thorough, with step-by-step visuals on the materials he gathers, the way they are combined, and how they are manipulated into necessary ingredients, such as bricks, shingles, and support structures. However, there is no spoken word or voiceover. “Primitive Technology” relies on video footage to tell the story. The audience only hears the snapping of twigs, the weaving of stalks, or the mixing of mud over the background of birds chirping and insects releasing their mating calls into the wild.
This is key to the huge viewership the channel has earned. Sure, people love to be amazed by the sheer fact that he builds such livable structures with only raw materials, but there is something more. The silence has a calming effect on viewers. Watching someone who appears to be in no clear or present danger build a roofed, shingled house from nothing while the sound of a brook babbles in the background is nothing short of blissful. This is where “Primitive Technology” videos differ from televised programming of a similar nature: the utter lack of drama.
It is paying off. The YouTube channel, which has over 7.5 million subscribers, often brings in over 10 million views per video. The channel, which was started in 2015, has over 525 million views across all videos, which some reaching as many as 33 million views individually. A quick Google search reveals even more of a fandom. Reddit page r/Primitive Technology has almost 24,000 members and is dedicated to discussion related to the wilderness channel.
Even the loss of anonymity has not squandered the mystical quality of this channel. The man behind the huts is John Plant, a 30-something Australian living in Far North Queensland. He was forced to reveal his identity to the public eye after his videos were being reposted without consent on Facebook, which was depriving him of the proceeds. Sadly, Plant does not live in the huts he built or exist solely on sweet potatoes grown in the yard. That does not detract from his craft, but it might disappoint those who imagined a solitaire fellow toughing it out in the great outdoors.
For the viewers who watch for the logistics of the construction, not the calming effect, Plant has a website primitivetechnology.wordpress.com, which goes into detail on how each item was made and what situation it is best suited to. While this content is useful, the viewers that come for the satisfying aspect of his videos are the most intriguing. One wonders if the art of building survival shelters, weapons, and other primitive tools might make its way into the collective of mainstream hobbies.
We all know someone who is into woodworking, or hikes, or paints nature scenes. Imagine if your neighbor down the street began going into the woods to work on his A-frame hut. Your great aunt learns how to make sandals out of plants in her backyard. It sounds humorous, sure, but a world where people learn to fend for themselves in a sustainable way would be a positive one indeed. In the meantime, try giving these videos a watch before bed to understand the mass appeal of this simplistic shelter.