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Thread: Deterrents to Technological Advancements

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    Guild Artisan Greason Wolfe's Avatar
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    Default Deterrents to Technological Advancements

    Last night, during some of my "slow time" at work, I started developing some of the back story and "world history" for one of the maps I've been plugging along at for a while now. It started with a couple hundred years, then a few more hundred years, and several more hundreds of years after that. And then a thought occurred to me. I'm sure I'm not the only one that has done this, in fact, I can think of several well known authors that have done the same thing, particularly in the fantasy genre. And that thing is . . .

    Develop hundreds (or thousands) of years of history for a fantasy world (or region), consciously limiting the level of technology.

    But why do we do that?

    The first and most obvious answer is that "well, it's a fantasy world, duh!" I realized there was more to it than that. While we may play god in the sense of such things, what do the people of these worlds think, and why would they not pursue higher levels of technology? What kind of factors might deter such pursuits? What does society, as a whole, think of those "rogue thinkers" that do pursue such things?

    Of course, the existence of magic is one fairly obvious answer. If magic allows for such things as artificial light, long range communications, the healing of wounds (and/or curing of diseases) and other such "great" undertakings, why, then would society need to develop more advanced technologies?

    Another possible answer would be religious beliefs. Even in our own world, there was a time where religion treated the sciences as something akin to practicing witchcraft or worshiping the devil. This, or course, has great potential to effect society's views regarding the sciences and those who pursue technological advancements.

    A more remote possibility might be the lack of certain "key elements" that would unlock the sciences for the society in question. Or, perhaps, it is simply a matter of society being content with its current quality of life.

    More realistically speaking, it might be a combination of these factors (and others, perhaps) that act as a deterrent when it comes to advances in technology. I am, however, curious what the rest of you might think about such things. My thought is, that by exploring these factors, we might better develop the cultures populating our imaginary worlds.

    GW
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      tilt is offline
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    of the top of my head I'll say that the biggest deterrent for developing new technology is that nobody wants it. You have to take several things into account. There were no school system for the poor, which is 99% of the population. The rich/noble, had it made allready - they got a free for all buffet of food, women and wine.. So they don't really need anything better. So it will take a long time before things get develloped. Then when you add magic to the equation you get yet another factor - magic can solve a lot of things as you yourself point out. The poor can't afford it though, so they are no better of with or without magic. (unless there is free healing). The religion thing is also relevant - I can hear the shouting of heretic and see the burning torches as the first person steps forward and poses some theory about ... anything *lol*
    But mostly - I think its going slow because of lack of interest, people just don't believe they are missing out.

    Modern quote by leader of american patent agency (begin of last century) - Everything that can be invented - has been invented!

    And if you analyse technological progress - you'll see the curve is exponetional - so the more we devellop the faster we devellop the next stuff.

    However, some fantasy involves inventions, steam engines, gun powder and you name it... so some fantasy settings could have some "modern" elements. They could be new or a reliq from an earlier civilization. I believe that the D&D setting Eberon has steam power involved, never played it though. And also Gnomes are often concidered very inventive - so you could base inventions comming from their society and spreading... indoor plumming for instance...
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      Jaxilon is offline
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    Some catastrophe like Chernobyl only bigger could turn people away from technology (this is sort of the lines my game world is on). Technology blamed for the downfall of society and thus frowned upon.

    Making it illegal to pollute the environment would cause totally different technologies to be invented because most of what we have today causes pollution.

    If you look at the technology we have today most of the big items come from war. <-- sad comment about mankind. Afterwards they tend to come up with civilian uses. A peaceful world that did not go in for killing one another would follow a different technological branch than what earth has taken. Not that what we can do today wouldn't be possible but it would probably be shut down for being a crime.

    If you were immortal and concerned for the beauty of your environment and were against war you might spend decades in design of something new that not only would do what you wanted but would also work harmoniously with the world you lived in. Just because you could do something wouldn't mean it was the right way to do it. Thus, time would be spent in making sure it was safe and non-toxic, yadda, yadda, yadda. Short lifespans and greed have created strip mining and drilling into Ocean floors with little preparation on what to do if it backfires (to point to an obvious recent disaster) as well as many other so called advances that have serious side effects. I always think of Thalidomide as the perfect example of technology gone wrong. If you never heard of it, you are probably too young to remember it but look it up, it's pretty bad medicine.

    Have to run to work now but if I think of more I will post.

    Good thread, I like thinking about how things might be done differently and what it would be like if it were. Where would we be if the library of Alexandria had not been lost or some of the civilizations in history that were destroyed along with their secrets. Might our world be an entirely different place?
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    Guild Master Gracious Donor Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    In our own world, the biggest impediment to technological advancement was slavery. People invent in order to make work easier for themselves. If you have a slave class, there is no need to invent. Technological advancement was largely in stasis during the rule of the Romans because they relied heavily on their slaves. The only real invention the Romans did was in the area of military engineering (at which they were brilliant, of course). Following the Empire's collapse, though, relatively rapid advancements in many areas were made, which ushered in the Medieval period.

    It's said that necessity is the mother of invention, but I don't really think that's true. Laziness is the mother of invention.
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      ravells is offline
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    Don't forget that the industrial revolution only happened in the 1700s (which is 400 years ago). The medieval period (closest to classic fantasy) was in about 1400 or so which is 600 years ago. And that's only in Europe and North America. Homo Sapiens has been on the planet for about what? Half a million years? For most of that time technological advances in the way that we see them today were minute. So I guess you could say that taken in the round, fantasy societies are actually quite advanced!

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      Master TMO is offline
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    Lack of literacy is also a problem. If there is no practical way of sharing how to do your wonderful invention with other great thinkers, no one will be able to replicate it after you die. Each inventor has to start from scratch, as it were.

    Then there's also social upheaval. While many significant advances have been made due to war, if the society is so traumatized by the conflict that the people basically revert to an earlier stage, all the new advances are discarded and forgotten in favor of mere personal survival.

    After the fall of the Roman Empire, folks basically forgot how to make roads and aqueducts of that quality for what, a thousand years or more?
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      RobA is offline
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    I've just started reading Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber.

    The core premise there is that technology has been intentionally suppressed on a colony planet by enforcing a theology of non-tech in order to reduce chances of detection by an alien race that has wiped out the remainder of humanity.

    The book discuses this idea, and refers to many periods of technological stagnation (like the Egypt of the Pharaohs) primarily by religious coercion.

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      jwbjerk is offline
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    Technology can be seen as a chain reaction. Without fire you can't discover metal smelting. Without metal smelting you can't make the tools necessary to discover things or make more refined tools for the next discovery. The chain reaction can also be blocked by the lack of the proper raw materials. What if dead trees didn't burn very well? What if most metals were inaccessibly deep underground? All you need to do is break the chain at one point to stop the forward momentum, either by a conceptual block, lack of materials or lack of need. The greeks apparently built some extremely elaborate clock-work mechanism, but they were mostly rare novelties that never reach widespread adoption, probably because they didn't need machines when they had slaves. Of course it's possible that there are alternate routes of discovery that we never needed to think of.

    There's also the factor that many discoveries necessary to reach the next technological level aren't useful by themselves. It may take several individually useless discoveries to make the next leap forward. Without widespread literacy and communication the chances that one person would get all the pieces of the puzzle become very slim.

    Finally there's the profit motive. Our patent system is now pretty messed out, but i give it a lot of credit for America's technological explosion. A system that allows inventors to profit from their invention while also widely distributing it really keeps things going. It becomes profitable to invent and sell a whole class of things that otherwise could be copied by the first clever guy to get his hands on it. And the chance of secret techniques getting lost with the death of an inventor goes way down.


    I want a relatively low tech level for my WIP planet. Since all the inhabitants are from several space-faring civilizations, some that came with the intention of colonization, they should reasonably have the necessary info with them. I simply decreed that iron (and other useful metals) are extremely rare on the planet. There are no good sources of uranium either. Since these civilizations don't have practical "replicator" technology to transmute metal from other elements, there's simply no way to build a high-tech manufacturing infrastructure even though they know how.

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      tilt is offline
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    I remember Feist playing a little with the thought of different developments in the rift war saga - the people who comes through the rift, doesn't have metals, instead their armor consist of some resin substance (as far as I remember). That could also be a fun thing to implement, the scarceness of something making the innovations go other ways...
    regs tilt
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    Guild Artisan Greason Wolfe's Avatar
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    All good stuff so far. As I said, it was just a thought that sort of hit me at random. Larry Niven also played with the link between magic and technology in "The Magic Goes Away." Of course, one of the things that might have spawned this random thought was a bit of contemplation about our own world. We have cell phones, computers, shuttles and what not, but there are still those folk living in the deepest jungles that are tribal and still using wooden spears and the like.

    As for the scarceness of something, that's what I meant when talking about "key elements." It could make for some interesting cultural clashes and such, particularly when a "new element" is introduced into a culture that doesn't know about it. I suppose, in a way, it might be like us (meaning the human race) encountering extra-terrestrials that have mastered FTL travel even though all our current knowledge suggest that such travel is impossible.

    Glad I got people thinking about this though. The whole "group mind" thing often spurs some of the greatest stuff, including technological advances.

    GW
    When nothing is going right and you can't find someone else to blame, start beating your head against the wall, 'cause it'll feel so much better when you stop.

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