Introduction to the Visual Arts

Ethnography (Pre-Electric Cultures)

aka Digital Detox!

Humankind, by the numbers

  • Age of Universe – 13.8 billion years
  • Age of Earth – 4.5 billion years
  • Time that Earth was dominated by Trilobites – 300 million years
  • Age of Biological Homo sapiens – 100 thousand years
  • Age of Cultural Homo sapiens – 40 thousand years – prehistory
  • Recorded History – 6 thousand years – history
  • Age of Printing Press – < 600 years – Gutenberg invents movable type in 1452
  • Age of Light Bulb – < 150 years – carbon filament light bulb invented by Thomas Edison in 1879
  • Age of Electric Grid – < 150 years – San Francisco power company creates 1st electric grid in 1879
  • Age of Long Beach State University – < 80 years – founded in 1949
  • Age of Internet – < 60 years – 1st Message from Leonard Kleinrock @UCLA in 1969
  • Age of World Wide Web – < 40 years – invented by Tim Berners Lee @CERN in 1989
  • Age of iPhone – < 20 years – released by Apple in 2007
  • Age of Instagram – < 20 years – launched in 2007
  • Age of TikTok – < 10 years – launched by ByteDance in 2018

Did aliens ever visit the earth? If they did, they probably called this place the Planet of the Trilobites.

Early Human Art

Brief talk by Glenn Zucman on the art found in the Lascaux cave in the Dordogne region of Southern France.

Life Before Electricity?

Since nearly every human being who has ever lived, lived without electricity, light bulbs, or cell phones, it’s worth asking the question:

What was human life like before electricity & the light bulb?

A huge question to ask!

We can get a piece of an answer by spending one night in a time-traveling ethnographic adventure.

Woman and child in a hammock

Activity – Time Travel

  • Spend one night this week without electricity.
  • Blog about your experience in your Canvas post.
  • Since you can’t use electricity, it will be hard to take a photo! So snap a photo of where you plan to be before the sun goes down.

Spend any night this week without electricity, No:

  • Cell Phones
  • Computers
  • TVs
  • Other Mobile Devices
  • Light Bulbs
  • Dance Clubs
  • Movie Theaters
  • Cars
  • eScooters
  • etc.

When the sun goes down it will get dark! Then what will you do?

  • Go to sleep?
  • Eat by candlelight?
  • Read by candlelight?
  • Have a conversation in the dark?
  • Make out?
  • Walk in the moonlight?
  • Gaze at stars?

Have you ever seen the Milky Way Galaxy? That “cloud” of a hundred billion stars that our sun is one of? Our ancestors saw it. They saw it looking like a “Milky Way” across the sky every night. Today you have to drive pretty far for that experience. On most nights I can see not 100 billion stars, but about 10.

Your Canvas Post

After your electricity-free night write a Canvas post. Reflect on your experience and how it might resonate with the bulk of our human ancestors who may have lived a little bit like that every night of their lives.

  1. What did you think the experience would be like?
  2. Was it “easy” or “hard”?
  3. “Frustrating”? Or “Liberating”?
  4. Did you get better sleep? Are you usually sleep deprived? What would it be like to sleep well every night?
  5. How is living without electricity more organic or harmonious with nature?
  6. How is living without electricity more limited? Is it boring?
  7. How do you think people survived without constant stimulation?
  8. What would be your ideal level of life activity and connectivity?
giant Buddha sculpture

Images: Emory University / eScience Commons / Shedding Light on a Pre-Electric Sleep Culture