LESSON Technology Levels

Discussion in 'CREATING WORLDS & SETTINGS' started by Lstorm, Oct 22, 2012.

  1. Depending on the setting, technology can have a large amount of influence on nearly every aspect of the world. Technology can inspire cultures, religions and it can inspire characters. Technology can change the lives of the people who live in said setting, as it has done so many times during history. Therefore, it is important that the creator of a world has at least a slight idea of how advanced the world’s technology is, an idea of how technology influences the lives of people. This is where technology levels and world-building intersect.

    So what are technology levels? That is a hard question to answer because of the nature of scientific progress. Discoveries are made frequently and are tied into each other, which makes it difficult to clearly separate one level of technology from another. Therefore, technology levels should only be used to get a general feel of how technologically advanced a world is, not to detail every piece of equipment that is present in the world. They are only stepping stones to establishing more technological details.

    This workshop is aimed at aspiring world-builders who have no idea what kind of technology level is their world on, and it is intended to help them develop a framework on which they can expand their world’s technology.

    Step One: Determine the setting, or, the world’s nature.
    As stated before, different settings interact with technology in different ways. Generally speaking, worlds that need their technology established fall into three categories: Fantasy, Alternate reality or alternate history and Science-fiction.

    Fantasy does not have much in the way of technology, because it usually focuses on the magical elements of the world, but that does not mean that it has absolutely none. Simple machinery or forging techniques would be a good example of technology used in fantasy settings. Technology takes a backseat in these settings and it is usually not very advanced.

    Science-fiction
    is defined by technology because of its nature. Without technology, there would be no science-fiction, as it is the realm of advanced machines and perhaps even spaceships. Technology takes the leading role in these settings. The technology of science-fiction is usually very advanced as it takes place in the future.

    Alternate reality, or alternate history, is perhaps the hardest to get a grasp on because of its nature. It deals with the “what would have happened if…”, and as such, the role of technology fluctuates in these kinds of settings. Generally speaking, this is the setting where strange and unlikely tools are developed. It is hard to get a good grasp of just how advanced an alternate reality is.

    There are other, composite settings that combine elements from two or more of the previous settings. If that is the case, one should just take the most dominant aspect of the setting and work with that. If one cannot decide the dominant aspect of their setting, then they should just advance to step two.

    Step Two: Define the types of technology used by the world.
    Technology, or rather, inventions, can be sorted into four categories based on their properties. While not every kind of technology is present in every world, all four of them may co-exist without problems. These four technological classes are usually independent of each other, so a world can have a very high technology level in one area even though it barely developed another. The four classes are the following:

    Conventional Technology
    This is technology as defined by humans: physically present machines that operate based on the laws of physics without breaking too many of them. A good example of conventional technology would be a pickaxe, a nuclear reactor or a plasma rifle. Because of its nature, it is present in most worlds.

    Magical Technology
    Despite the fact that Magic and Technology are usually seen as opposites, magic also functions as a kind of technology. A good example of magical technology would be a ritual that can resurrect the dead, a fireball spell or even a machine that works because it is powered by a magical stone. Magical technology is usually present in fantasy worlds.

    Biological Technology
    This type is perhaps the least visible of the four as even if it is seen, it is not thought of as technology. From genetically engineered viruses to actual species that have been developed as weapons, biological technology encompasses everything organic in nature. A good example of biological technology would be an artificially created plague, or claws that can pierce armour.

    Anachronistic Technology
    Best described as “something from the wrong time in the wrong place,” anachronistic technology is not really a separate kind of technology in its own right. It usually appears in alternate realities and its only recognisable characteristic is that it is out of place. A good example of anachronistic technology would be a modern car driving around in the middle ages, or a skyscraper that was constructed by cavemen.

    Step Three: Take a look at the world’s history.

    History is perhaps the most important aspect of a world when trying to determine its technology. Having a good idea of how many years have passed since the creation of this world is essential; however, technology is also defined by other events. Most importantly, periods of war and peace define the progress of technology.

    During war, science usually focuses on developing new military technologies. This means that while the armies will get more advanced as time goes on, the technology of everyday life stagnates or starts to decline. Eventually, a war may escalate to such a scale that it destroys the infrastructure necessary to make weapons of war. At that point, the level of technology starts to decline sharply as war continues to consume more and more resources and there are little to no resources left to re-build the facilities. In case of a short-term war, though, the technological level usually stagnates, then gets a boost after the wars have ended and the new technologies get incorporated into everyday life.

    In times of peace, technology usually develops at a steady rate; however, absolute peace does not mean technological progress. In times of economic crisis, technology does not really progress. Similarly, if a state or company has no opposition, it will see no reason to develop new technologies, therefore, progress will slow down. In other words, competition is necessary for technological advancements to occur, and it is usually in times of tense, competitive peace that the most ground-breaking achievements are made.

    As a general rule for other events, catastrophes that cause large-scale destruction or splinter a united group into many smaller groups, tend to set technological progress back. Events that create a healthy amount of friction between two states or companies, or unify many smaller groups into one large group, tend to boost technological progress. This is by no means true for every single event, but it works most of the time. If one finds that they cannot decide if an event advances technological progress or impedes it, then they may wish to explore its consequences in greater detail, or just leave it as a neutral event.

    Step Four: Establish the maximum level of technology and make three inventions.
    This is when one starts to work on the actual technology itself. As the first step, one should have a good idea about where their world stands in each type of technology that is used by the world. After one has considered the history of their world carefully, one should establish an invention for each type of technology the world uses. These inventions will represent the top-of-the-line from each type of technology. If the people of the world are known for combining different types of technology, one should also invent something for each possible combination. It is not important to know how these inventions work, they just have to represent top-notch technology.

    Another good method to establish the maximum technological level is to create one’s own technological level table, and quantify the effects that the world’s history had on the world’s technology. Then one should simply match the numbers with a slot in the table. How one makes their technological level table is their own business: there are simply too many variations to cover here. It also does not matter which method is used, as both will work. The choice is up to the creator of the world.

    After one has established the technological level, one should make three inventions: One used by the military, one moderately advanced invention used by the everyday man, and one tool that is considered to be simple by the standards of the world. If one wishes, one may also create an invention for every social class or every profession, but three should be enough to give a good idea about the technology used in the world. Once this step is complete, the creator should have a good idea about how advanced their world is.

    Step Five (Optional): Consider the society of the world.
    Having a good idea of how far technology should progress is not good enough though, mainly because each culture reacts differently to the idea of technology. While humans embrace technology, a species of religious fanatics might not appreciate modern medicine. At the same time, a warrior species could consider ranged weapons dishonourable, thus they would focus on melee weapons instead. Other species might be fundamentally opposed to quick changes, so it takes time for new inventions to get accepted, while still others may be afraid of their own technology.

    Different layers of society also react differently to technological progress. Powerful people may think that technology decreases their influence, while common people may embrace it. Therefore, different social layers may use different technology, or technology might be intentionally held back by the government. There are many possible variations of how society interacts with technology, so it may not hurt to sit down and think about it.

    Step Six: Lean back, take a rest, then go over the points once more. If everything makes sense, then congratulations! The world just had its technological level established.
     
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