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Old 09-25-2021, 06:33 AM   #1
Tom Mazanec
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Default Hyperdepression and technological regression

We have read plenty of stories, I am sure, of war (or maybe pandemic) reversing technological advancements. But could this happen with just economic collapse, without mushroom clouds or piles of plague-struck bodies?
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Old 09-25-2021, 06:59 AM   #2
malloyd
 
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Default Re: Hyperdepression and technological regression

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Originally Posted by Tom Mazanec View Post
We have read plenty of stories, I am sure, of war (or maybe pandemic) reversing technological advancements. But could this happen with just economic collapse, without mushroom clouds or piles of plague-struck bodies?
It's actually not too plausible even with the piles of bodies unless you can get the survivor count down below fractions of a percent, preferably only in places that are already lower tech, and are mostly interested in the short term aftermath, so probably not.

To the extent it works at all, I don't see why an economic collapse is vastly less believable. That's how the regression is supposed to work in the piles of bodies cases anyway - the lowered population (and maybe damaged capital infrastructure) supposedly can't support the higher TL.

Which is also what's wrong with the concept really, because a what a smaller economy can't support is major investments, not high technology. What you get should look more like high tech poverty than lower technology. There are lots of kinds of technology that don't demand particularly huge investments, particularly not compared to the lower tech things they are replacing. I've pointed out before that single shot black powder firearms are simpler to build than many of the flashier bits of TL3 weapons and armor, crystal radios don't take much beyond an ability to draw wire and pound metal into foil, and you can get most of TL5 medicine with the germ theory of disease, the concept of specifics, and the ability to make metal surgical tools.

Edit: the traditional story justification for this sort of collapse is "running out of oil". That doesn't work so well in a modern context, because we know actually burning enough fossil fuels to run out will render the planet an uninhabitable greenhouse, but it works for a more retro story, or one set somewhere other than Earth or with a different really vital resource.
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Old 09-25-2021, 07:32 AM   #3
patchwork
 
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Default Re: Hyperdepression and technological regression

Sure. Consider the example of Roman concrete; there were three concrete factories in the Roman Empire, which supplied the needs of the whole Empire, with their buyers overwhelmingly being government. The empire collapses, trade networks fragment, and now you can only reliably sell to the province you're located in, and one province doesn't have the demand to keep a factory going, so all three factories shutter for lack of demand and the technique for making concrete is forgotten.

High technology frequently requires a large market to make the degree of specialization required profitable. When the market fragments, the people and specialized equipment necessary for cutting-edge tech will find itself swiftly repurposed, and techniques and data get lost because preserving them is expense for no revenue.

Having said that, it's a fair question how far down you could really go. A worldwide depression shaving off one TL is extremely plausible, maybe even demonstrable. Heck, look up "institutional archaeology" if you're unfamiliar with the term - technology companies already have to sink time and effort into fighting this, as market and employment shifts destroy knowledge networks that cannot readily be rebuilt from scratch. Could we get two TLs? I think we could, if the energy sector was badly disrupted. The price of electricity and/or oil goes through the roof, and suddenly lots of things become commercially nonviable, shipping is disrupted, starvation becomes a possibility, the Internet becomes an intermittent and possibly local phenomenon...three? I'm struggling to see how you get three, although it's fair to say that such an economic collapse almost certainly causes the wars and plagues you were trying not to posit.
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Old 09-25-2021, 07:54 AM   #4
malloyd
 
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Default Re: Hyperdepression and technological regression

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High technology frequently requires a large market to make the degree of specialization required profitable.
That's the dodgy bit. Certainly [some] technologies (and not just high ones, concrete after all is not a particularly high technology) require large markets to justify. Others not so much so. You lose the stuff that requires a major capital investment relative to what your new situation can support, not the stuff that's "high tech". There's some overlap, but there is plenty of stuff in the disjoint parts of both sets. You get "change" instead of "regression".
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Old 09-25-2021, 09:30 AM   #5
PTTG
 
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Default Re: Hyperdepression and technological regression

I think it's plausible. As others said, if the institution that dominates your market disappears, then at least in that field, you're going to lose tech.

It needs other elements to make for a general purpose TL drop, though. I could imagine a cyberpunk setting where a few secretive megacorps control all access to fusion power, cloning, FTL, computing, advanced metalurgy, etc., etc. An economic collapse might at first strengthen these corps, but they'll find the floor dropping out from under them in a hyperdepression. At that point, if they get all retributive and destroy their records and technology as they go bankrupt (or just a few critical ones do), the infrastructure will be lost.

Now, in today's world that's not very critical. If we lost our present-day companies but still had the individual engineers and scientists, we'd be back where we are today in a decade or two. But that's partially because the people who designed and built the basic IC manufacturing equipment are still alive. If it's the year 2160, there's going to be a big gap between the best IC fab you can build without any experience and the level of IC fab you need to build the latest tech.

This is all very hand-wavy, but as far as a generally accepted theory for how the world got a given way, it could work for you.

Other solutions include a nanite leak sending out nanomachines that break down certain critical components of your setting's modern technology, or an abrupt loss of a critical power source. In either case, if the condition lasts for long enough for the experienced techs to die off just of old age, you'll get a tech regression.

The most I expect this to lose you is 1 TL. Maybe 2 at the high end.
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Old 09-25-2021, 09:52 AM   #6
whswhs
 
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Default Re: Hyperdepression and technological regression

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Originally Posted by patchwork View Post
Having said that, it's a fair question how far down you could really go. A worldwide depression shaving off one TL is extremely plausible, maybe even demonstrable. Heck, look up "institutional archaeology" if you're unfamiliar with the term - technology companies already have to sink time and effort into fighting this, as market and employment shifts destroy knowledge networks that cannot readily be rebuilt from scratch. Could we get two TLs? I think we could, if the energy sector was badly disrupted. The price of electricity and/or oil goes through the roof, and suddenly lots of things become commercially nonviable, shipping is disrupted, starvation becomes a possibility, the Internet becomes an intermittent and possibly local phenomenon...three? I'm struggling to see how you get three, although it's fair to say that such an economic collapse almost certainly causes the wars and plagues you were trying not to posit.
I'm thinking about something like this as a possible next campaign, though one where a return of the supernatural and a decrease in reliability of technology play a key role.

The kind of disruption you postulate is one of the plot elements in Atlas Shrugged, which has some passages tracing how the failure of one transaction or business firm disrupt the plans of other businesses, which fail in their turn.
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Old 09-25-2021, 10:27 AM   #7
David Johnston2
 
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Default Re: Hyperdepression and technological regression

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
I'm thinking about something like this as a possible next campaign, though one where a return of the supernatural and a decrease in reliability of technology play a key role.

The kind of disruption you postulate is one of the plot elements in Atlas Shrugged, which has some passages tracing how the failure of one transaction or business firm disrupt the plans of other businesses, which fail in their turn.
Bear in mind that in Atlas Shrugged they have a supervillain (although Rand thinks of him as a superhero) going around blowing up all the factories to make the decline happen.

If I were make technological regression happen on Earth more or less nonviolently I'd blame it on virtual reality. Most of the population spends so much time online in virtual paradises that there's a demographic collapse and then the automated maintenance and manufacturing systems start to break down...

Last edited by David Johnston2; 09-25-2021 at 10:41 AM.
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Old 09-25-2021, 10:28 AM   #8
Ulzgoroth
 
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Default Re: Hyperdepression and technological regression

Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
I'm thinking about something like this as a possible next campaign, though one where a return of the supernatural and a decrease in reliability of technology play a key role.

The kind of disruption you postulate is one of the plot elements in Atlas Shrugged, which has some passages tracing how the failure of one transaction or business firm disrupt the plans of other businesses, which fail in their turn.
One thing you can say for a corporate capitalist system is that valued technology will usually be retained in business failures, as it's bought (either out of bankruptcy or to avoid same) by a competitor.

Of course if the entire market segment is having a crisis that's less likely to work.
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Old 09-25-2021, 10:43 AM   #9
ravenfish
 
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Default Re: Hyperdepression and technological regression

The example of Roman concrete brings to mind the fact that, despite the fall of the Roman empire bringing a dramatic social and economic collapse, there was remarkably little outright technological regression, and, indeed, technological progress continued throughout the so-called "dark ages". Even in the hinterlands of Europe, metallurgy, shipbuilding, and (military and religious) architecture continued to advance, and technology such as the wind and water mill that had been present but underutilized was brought out and developed when the collapse of the slave-labor system increased the need for it.
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Old 09-25-2021, 01:04 PM   #10
Willy
 
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Default Re: Hyperdepression and technological regression

Pretty sure something like this could happen in a highly globalized world like ours.

Just take a look at the recent pandemic situation, nearly all glas for ampules to store the vaccs are made in europe from one supplier in a very limited number of factorys. Not only this Biontech could have made millions of doses mores if a certain hard to create and buy substance would have been in larger supply, all they needed were a couple of ounzes not tons!

Our world is like a very complicated spiderweb, and even more troublesome for a sure and ready supply is not the population needed for it. Imho even a 50% loss global could let us carry on on the same level, but the highly distributet and diversified networks that are needed to make the endproduct are highly vulnarable. Look at a simple bycicle nnearly all parts are made on different continents and putted together far off the consumer. Even the lightning system, I opened today a light to repair it had several stamps like made in indie, china and vietnam, in a single light, which was labelled made in germany! ( assembled in germany fits far better )

Therefore I think the disruption of the worldwide trade and diestribution network would have more impact than a die off of a good portion of us. Especially if certain countrys will take measures to use the stuff they produce for there own people. Look at india a worlds mayor producer of vaccines, who stopped in the pandemic situation sending more than the before negotiated doses even if they could. Or at the US were Trumps america first and stop of delivering essential components for vaccines backfired heavily - the certain stuff mentioned before was nearly solely produced in the US, with the result that the US waited for vaccines which couldnīt b produced because of the ban... .

Another problem is that even if the machines still spit out deeply needed stuff - for how long can they do this without spare parts? This market is even more distributed worldwide and often in the hand of a few companies far of. A example would be that in europe is a single! source for shipping lock bearings or you need to wait month for a purpos made transformer used in mayor electric grits.

In the early crisis we would have other problem and there will be still running machines and stockpiles, later than the machines will made to function by quick fixes, but on the long run you need to have either spare parts or reconstruct the tools to make the tools.


Which is a good adventure hook. OK we need that waterchip, oh we are in upstate New York, the nearest supplier is in New Orleans


Recently the gouvernments recognized this problem, and being heavily dependend for next to everything on china and started countermeasures for key productions. In europe for example several big battrey factorys are in construction and Tesla is pampered with billions for a factory in Brandenburg Germany while envirenment protection laws are nearly circumvented. Same goes for medical and antibiotic production, also a lot of countrys had in the cold war stockpiles of resources of all kind nowadays we are speaking in europe about rebuilding this capacitys.

Last edited by Willy; 09-25-2021 at 01:09 PM. Reason: spelling error, added example
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