Yesterday, I read about “Eden: Paradise Lost,” a recent wilderness “reality” show — this one filmed in Scotland. The show’s British TV producers hoped to design a better, more cohesive community by throwing together some 25 people, many with “survival skills,” such as hunting, fishing, animal biology, etc. It was a private, commercial TV-driven social experiment, not trying for mere “survival of the fittest,” but for collaboration — the hope of getting ourselves (or someone) “back to the garden.”
Lesson from the communal experiments of the 1970s: A loose group of well-meaning people needs more than chickens, goats, and some primitive survival skills to get ‘back to the garden.’
Instead, the show served its UK audience with five episodes of yet another vivid portrayal of our inadequacy, in the West, to overcome our (late-capitalist) state of competition. Most of Eden’s inhabitants evaded their commercial “keepers,” slipping out of their 600-acre highland enclosure. None, alone, felt able to combat the deterioration of our human sense of fairness, our ideals of egalitarian community, nor our ability to build and keep that community together. (One article made easy reference to Lord of the Flies.)
Combined with the lack of modern tools and goods, the 600 acres of rough Scottish terrain proved too much for the members of TV-Eden. The group fell into old-fashioned feuding and clannishness, according to the in the accounts I read, in The Guardian and The New Yorker. (I wonder whether a social historian with a good library might have helped.)
Many of the men, especially, apparently became too hungry, too competitive, too greedy to keep the “the beast” in them from taking over. (The women seemed better-equipped, although some confessed to never having experienced the kind of male misogyny that came their way.) Apparently indifferent to this kind of thing (finally), the August 2017 audience reportedly drifted away like mist on the fen.
This is a project from West Virginia around 2006. …It was ‘eaten’ by Republicans….
The lesson of Eden, I think, is one that a lot of today’s “back to the land” veterans in my native West Virginia could have shared: A loose group of well-meaning people needs more than chickens, goats, and some primitive survival skills to get “back to the garden.” There is more to developing an actual, working commune or community, in other words, than arbitrary “job skills,” selected by producers for “good TV”.
It strikes me that the new owner-curators of private “social network” companies are developing our online communities in the same way the TV producers designed their Eden — with the same kind of competitive, anti-social thinking that has been destroying our real community organizations for decades.
I recently disengaged from Facebook for this reason: It seems the more I contributed — the more I ‘clicked’ — the more I am “pigeon-holed,” closing myself off from a wider readership, as opposed to opening doors to them. Clearly, the private owners of these networks are becoming the new “Big Data” monopolies — notably, Amazon (owner of Goodreads, Abebooks, etc.) Google (YouTube), Apple (iTunes), and Facebook (Whatsapp, Instagram, Messenger).
To significantly broaden our audience through these giants, I suspect we will be forced to pay them. As publishers learned with Amazon, these networks are taking all the chips, our new ‘keepers,’ using their high-resolution data to dominate the entire “enclosure.”