Sunday, September 30, 2012

After Electricity

Revolution is a recent TV show based on two premises: a) electricity suddenly stops working for any sort of Human technology, and b) nobody is smart enough to think of using a bicycle. Or a steam engine. Or a lot of other things.

This is a sad waste. Picking only one of the above would have been much more interesting.

Imagine a) without b). You get a complicated steampunky world that has suffered an enormous economic and cultural disaster, and probably immense loss of life in the aftermath of the Fail. Apple, Google, the Hoover dam and this blog are reduced to scrap in a moment.

But everyone with a bicycle that hasn't used it lately starts pumping up the tires. Diesels still work, unless they have electronic controls or an electric starter. Gas turbines still work, ditto. Also, steam.

15 years later, factories are still retooling, because everything powered by electricity had to be replaced by something else: the line shafts of pre-electrification industry,  pneumatic or hydraulic tools, small diesels, or something else.

Also, every factory that made electric motors, or gasoline engines, or integrated circuits, or batteries, needed to switch to producing something else.

Most U.S. locomotives were Diesel-electric or electric, and replacing them with or retrofitting them as Diesel-hydraulics is a titanic task, so old steam locomotives have been pulled of of excursion railroads and pulled out of museums to fill the gap.

Cars, new or retrofitted, are Diesels with gaslamp headlights.

Chains of optical telegraphs using heliographs by day and Aldis lamps by night, frequently sited atop former cell towers, are expensive, silenced by bad weather and blocked by oceans. Most long distance communication is by mailplane.

Mechanical computers use punch cards and paper tapes.

It's a strange hybrid of 19th, 20th and 21st century technology: a poorer and less productive world than our own, but not medievaloid.

And at least it's been good for the newspaper industry.

1 comment:

andrewjlowry said...

I have thought a fair bit about this post and I have decided not to venture to watch the show. It is interesting that electricity that has been with us effectively for a little over 100 years and for many parts of the world including rural America even less would cause such a total collapse. Steam engines have been with us since 1712 (yes three hundreds ago Newcomen introduced his engine) so I agree they could be reintroduced and provided a great filling of the gap. We would have to learn how to rivet steam as it has been replaced by electric welding. Also American industry could be retooled and rebuilt in much less than 15 years. It has been done before (WWII) and in other countries - post war Europe and Japan. So more errors in the program's premise. But hey any excuse to get the hero to shoot a bow. ;)