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dystopic "techno-barbarian" futures?


kristof65
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Starting a new topic because I don't want to thread jack the one this quote came from:

 

One of my issues with Battletech, especially prior to the Clan Invasion, is the dystopic "techno-barbarian" future. I hate those kinds of backgrounds because it seems awful unlikely to me that all knowledge on how to manufacture things would be completely lost. It's awful depressing too. Nope, I like my mecha games to have their warriors on the bleeding edge of technology with more to come, not hoping something doesn't get hit because there's no replacement. This is also a large part of my issue with the 40k background material.

 

For the most part I agree - but...

In most of the sci-fi we see this plot device used in it's done for plot convenience. But my own experiences with technology over the last few decades make me wonder if we really could lose our knowledge to manufacture things. Let me explain.

 

My background is electronics - for nearly 30 years now, I've been messing with resistors, capacitors, tubes, integrated circuits, etc. I'm not an electronics engineer, merely a technician. But since my initial electronics education included vacuum tubes and the first pieces of equipment I spent any time with were built around vacuum tubes and I have a lot of experience troubleshooting to a discrete component, I'm pretty well grounded in all the fundamentals behind electronics theory. While I can't design an integrated circuit, I could build a vacuum tube based device from scratch if I needed to - like a radio, or crude computer. Most of my fellow electronics techs in age/experience could do the same.

 

However, the knowledge of the new techs coming into the field is not the same as mine. In many ways, they have more advanced knowledge than I do - they know fancy skills like surface mount soldering, computerized circuit simulation, etc. Oh, in most ways, they come out of the school with pretty much the same theoretical knowledge I did - the difference is about five years later - because they aren't working with electronics on a discrete component level, they become more of what I refer to as a black box technician.

 

So what I see is as we get more advanced in our technologies, the pool of people able to actually build and maintain the technology at a base level grows smaller. By base level, I mean the ability of people who can design somethig from scratch - technology is actually allowing more people to use building blocks (like IC Chips) to build far more complicated devices - but the number of people who can build those base blocks isn't actually climbing that fast. We're not so much losing our ability to build things - but we are losing our ability to fix things and possibly even designing them from scratch.

 

With my experience then, it isn't really that hard to make a mental leap to envisioning a future where you have something like a technomage/tech-priest caste who keep the knowledge of building things secret, and a smaller sub-class of fixers who don't really understand the technology they maintain. Why? Because I see it on some levels now - I've met 20 somethings who are wonders at putting together and maintaining fancy gaming computers, but who have absolutely no knowledge of how the boards and modules they swap out actually work.

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What you say is true, but it totally ignores backwards-engineering. I'm sure that a group of these new engineers who know nothing about vacuum tubes, could get together for a few days and figure out how one worked, and then how to build one.

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What you say is true, but it totally ignores backwards-engineering. I'm sure that a group of these new engineers who know nothing about vacuum tubes, could get together for a few days and figure out how one worked, and then how to build one.

True - I did skip over backward engineering. Let's take vacumm tubes, since I mentioned it - even as I was having the bulk of my electronics education - early 80s - vacuum tubes were ancient tech. In the last 30 years, they've virtually disappeared from the landscape, except for very specialized uses. One of the most common of those specialized uses - the CRT - is on it's way out now. How many examples of vacuum tubes will be around to backwards engineer in 100 years? 200 years?

 

While a vacuum tube can be easily backward engineered, backwards engineering of an IC chip or transistor isn't so easy if you don't have the proper tools to analyze it. As tech gets more and more advanced, it becomes harder and harder to backwards engineer without advanced tools.

 

So if you have an event, or series of events, that remove a large part of your industrial base, knowledge repositories and skilled people, you have a step backwards. Depending on the severity of the event, the tech base could have a hard time recovering.

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History is replete with examples of technology being invented, discovered, used, then lost, only to be re-invented centuries later. Civilizations rise and fall, societies crumble, populations die out or move on.

 

The history of this planet is likewise a cycle of natural devastation and catastrophic extinction events. The sources of most of those events are still at large, still a threat, and for the most part, not preventable at this time by man.

 

I can get pretty sick of watching all that bleak end-of-the-world crap on the History Channel, myself. But bleakness isn't just a fantasy motif. It's a fact of life.

 

Scenarios where most or even all advanced technology is lost are not only plausible, they are sadly likely. The numbers of those who cannot make a vacuum tube far outweigh the numbers of those who can, and in any case, any number of scenarios involving major catastrophes would involve the loss of power, machinery, tools, and the like, for the manufacture of those things. People with the appropriate knowledge would be targets; either coveted and adored or resented by smaller minds.

 

Obviously, some technology can be manufactured with simple tools. But a lot of what is around today requires dust-free rooms, computers, machines able to handle microscopic tasks, and a lot of electric power, to manufacture, and all of those are fragile things that likely would not survive a planet-wide catastrophe. Steam power, internal combustion engines, blacksmithing, and gunpowder (and yes, eventually, vacuum tubes) are the kind of technologies that would most immediately be available, though in portions small enough to covet and fight over, and to my mind, that makes for a rather "techno-barbarian" future scenario.

 

It seems to me that what sorts of technology survive in the setting, and in what forms, largely depends on the type of catastrophe that brought about the setting itself.

 

This is why to me basics have always been essential. As a musician and player of several instruments in a modern era, I have on occasion found myself at odds with those who are more programmers and technicians than songwriters or musicians. Though I appreciate what they do for what it is, they entirely lose my respect when they turn a nose up at conventional musical outlets. The reason boils down to this: drum machines and computers are great, but what do you do when the power goes out - and stays out? It's a very distinct possibility that it will. If you have a basic grasp of musical theory, and some experience with an acoustic instrument, then you'll probably be a lot happier (and more useful), in that event.

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I got called away before I could finish my thoughts.

 

Like Bruunwald says, the form of the catastrophe itself is going to play a large part in what technology is lost, and how long it stays lost.

 

With as wide spread as our knowledge basis has become, I don't see much of our current technology being lost for very long, where something to happen tomorrow. We might revert back to 18th century technology for awhile, but it wouldn't be too long before radios were blaring again, and cel phone networks being planned. Even though we've come a long way in the last 200 years, I don't really beleive it would take 200 years or more to regain that knowledge - there are lots of things that could be skipped and/or processes that would be sped up during recovery - yes, rebuilding those first crude Computers and their attached Computer aided milling machines might be hard, but they would be an essential step to the real goal.

 

 

But culturally is where I think the real danger in losing technology is. Technology is power - and should something shake our technological foundation, those who have the tech and those who can rebuild it will have the power. It's not much of a stretch for me to see the remnants of a catastrophe rebuilding into a technocracy, even possibly evolving to the stage of a tech priest/techno mage sort of culture.

 

crud - called away again before I can finish my thoughts

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Just to threadjack (cause I have no idea where Sgt Crunch posted his thoughts), the "techno-barbarian" battletech setting hasn't been officially recognized since maybe 1986 or 1987. Around the time the first major supplements for the setting were published, the setting was largely retconned away from the "techno-barbarian" meme and more towards a slide in living conditions type setting: Mechs, and spacecraft were still being manufactured (even if relative output was low due to a lack of an expertise base), life expectancy was as good as -- if not better -- than that of today, and computers with 25th Century level tech were still being easily produced. So while there certainly are plenty of "crapsack" workds in the setting, this is less due to a problem of "barbarism" and more due to logisticsa, and lack of resourced.

 

Damon

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It was in this thread about CAVs vs Battlemechs over here: http://www.reapermini.com/forum/index.php?/topic/39639-deadliest-warriors-mecha-edition/page__pid__563699__st__0entry563699

 

hmm, lessee, where was I? Crud, can't remember the train of thought I was on. It was something about not being that hard to envision future scenarios where this techo-barbarism exists, simply because events allow technology to be held and controlled by a precious knowledgable few who hoard their knowledge, and use it for power. This has happened multiple times throughout history.

 

Craftsmen guilds were not only a way to ensure knowledge was passed on, but a way to control it. Today we have corporations using patent and copyright law to hoard their technologies.

 

With more and more of our information being stored in digital form, we're more in danger of losing that information. While not really an example of post-apocolyptic technology, Eric Flint's 1632: Ring of Fire Series holds a great example of knowledge being power - in those books where a modern West Virginia coal mining town gets sent to 17th century Germany, it isn't their guns or cars that wind up being their means of power - it's the books that came back with them. The move towards digital libraries is great when it comes to being able to access information at our fingertips now, it's going to really suck if we lose the means to access that information.

 

My contemporaries and I might be considered a little "ancient" or "wierd" for our love of paper books by younger generations, but if something happens, those book collections are going to be pretty valuable, especially if they're eclectic as mine, with subject running the gamut from medieval farming to autobody painting to building radios.

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Cool thread for ideas for gaming!! I guess it's all about what the group wants to play, and to what degree the setting can suspend the groups disbelief.

 

We played a post apoc game with Savage Worlds which was really fun. There were some rare vehicles, lots of leftover small arms, some AI, and not many people who could fix everything, much less make it from scratch.

 

As well as being a welcome break from fantasy, the techno-barbarism can be done really well and hold a group for longer than a one off session. We played a good stretch with that one.

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Just to threadjack (cause I have no idea where Sgt Crunch posted his thoughts), the "techno-barbarian" battletech setting hasn't been officially recognized since maybe 1986 or 1987. Around the time the first major supplements for the setting were published, the setting was largely retconned away from the "techno-barbarian" meme and more towards a slide in living conditions type setting: Mechs, and spacecraft were still being manufactured (even if relative output was low due to a lack of an expertise base), life expectancy was as good as -- if not better -- than that of today, and computers with 25th Century level tech were still being easily produced. So while there certainly are plenty of "crapsack" workds in the setting, this is less due to a problem of "barbarism" and more due to logisticsa, and lack of resourced.

 

Damon

 

I got out out Battletech quite some time ago and that might very well be the case, I couldn't afford a lot of the sourcebooks back then. And ultimately, the background wasn't my biggest beef with Battletech that led me away from the game. I was willing to accept it. But so many games and shows use that as the backdrop. Unfortunately for me, it's a backdrop I don't care to play in all the time. I just find it hard to believe that with humanity spread across the stars that all ability to manufacture items from the perceived/real technological peak. Somebody somewhere has at a minimum access to knowledge on how to produce double quantum friction reducers or whatever.

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Completely losing a set of basic skills seems pretty unlikely to me. In today's society such information is not kept in a central library that can burn down, it's distributed around the world in paper form, in electronic form and in people's heads. You'd need quite an apocalyptic even for all of those to be lost all over the world simultaneously and I think calling the scenario likely is a stretch.

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Completely losing a set of basic skills seems pretty unlikely to me. In today's society such information is not kept in a central library that can burn down, it's distributed around the world in paper form, in electronic form and in people's heads. You'd need quite an apocalyptic even for all of those to be lost all over the world simultaneously and I think calling the scenario likely is a stretch.

Unlikely I agree - but plausible, I still think.

 

I already pointed out that the skill sets of todays youth is different than the skill sets of my generation. As we progress further, those skill sets will change as well. Even today the technology many of our skilled engineers create is based on building blocks created by yesterday's engineers. I don't find it all that difficult to envision a future where computers allow people to build things they don't really understand. Heck, in some ways that's already possible.

 

And paper - I see a two-fold issue here - more and more of our information is stored digitally, while paper rots. Again, I don't find it difficult to envision a future where knowledge doesn't make it to paper.

 

So if your society advances to a point where you're relying on technology to retain knowledge and create more technology, I see it entirely possible for the rug to be pulled out from under a society if the technology fails. If the bulk of your information is being stored digitally, and you lose the ability to access that information, while simultaneously losing the ability to restore access and/or build new tech to access it, the knowledge in people's heads isn't going to do much good if they don't also understand how to build the tech all the way up from the base.

 

IE, I may know how to make a transistor, but if I don't know how to build the machines needed to make a transistor, that knowledge doesn't do me any good. Likewise, all the computer programming knowledge in the world won't do you any good if no one can build a computer.

 

It's not really that you have to lose all the knowledge - just losing significant chunks of it in various places can cause problems. And if you lose rapid communications over long distances, you might lose abilities just because the people who need to coordinate with each other might not be able to connect with each other again.

 

Of course, this techno-barbarian scenario is much, much more likely to happen if the entire society exists on one planet. Settings like 40k annoy me because while I see the tech-priest culture as possible, I hardly seeing it existing over 1000s of worlds.

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Of course, this techno-barbarian scenario is much, much more likely to happen if the entire society exists on one planet. Settings like 40k annoy me because while I see the tech-priest culture as possible, I hardly seeing it existing over 1000s of worlds.

 

This is why I don't like it. A Mad Max scenario on a single planet is easier for me to buy into, but a loss of knowledge across an interstellar government/collective/society I don't.

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I just find it hard to believe that with humanity spread across the stars that all ability to manufacture items from the perceived/real technological peak. Somebody somewhere has at a minimum access to knowledge on how to produce double quantum friction reducers or whatever.

 

Not when the phone company is actively working to suppress development, all the way up to sanctioned covert assassination of scientists working to rediscover tech (and make it look like the other side did it).

 

But it was not so much that people "forgot" how to develop advanced tech: there were pockets of advanced tech all over the place. But who had it, and who controlled it was a different story, as well as whether the state (or private industry for that matter) had the resources, money, or the like to rebuild the techniques and machine tools to do so after what is the equivalent of a galactic WWIII, with nukes (and Comstar).

 

Damon.

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A good example of technology advancing so far that we can no longer construct something based on an earlier tech base is the Saturn V rocket. And that only took 30 years to lose...so the possibility of losing the knowledge to build base technologies is quite real. However, this may not be as likely in fields of hands on craftsmanship such as welding, steel manufacturing, carpentry...though it may take a short amount of time to reaquire a few necessary base skills for a dumbed down tech base (if needed), though how many folks can build a simple combustion engine the likes of those in the days of Henry Ford these days? few if any.

 

Another good example of skills being lost as equipment advances is in surveying. How many surveyors would know how to use a solar compass or old linker chain? With electronic, even robotic, total stations and data collectors, not one new surveyor is trained in the use of such archaic devices. Heck, even steel tape, which replaced the chains, is almost seldom used anymore with our reliance on laser range finding, though it is still a base skill being taught.

 

It is possible for a civilization to advance beyond its own ability to sustain itself technologically in the event of catastrophic failures of the base technologies it relies on to maintain itself presently. How likely that becomes is a different debate.

 

One of the things my professors do is direct us students to things like excel spreadsheets or MathCad to do tedious functions. I ignore that because I want to understand HOW the process works, not just get what the program spits back at me after dumping my problem into it. That's the trap. Losing that understanding in favor of the fancy new whizbang of the moment and then relying on the whizbang instead of the process knowledge.

 

Sorry for the ramble...

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