Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Development System

Since conceiving of a technology-based system in 2015, making that idea manifest has been a considerable trial.  At the beginning, I managed to get through the bare bones of the structure, up to tech 18, very lightly touching on many ideas and concepts with the inconsistency of an idea newly formed.  Since, I've tried twice to create a structure that would enable me to explain the system in greater depth ~ once on the wiki, and once on the blog.  On both occasions, I did not get very far.  It turns out that the idea is so damn complicated I can hardly keep it all in my head at the same time, meaning that it quickly spins out of control. I end up being uncertain of what I'm trying to describe and from there the frame collapses.

I can see what it is supposed to do, but not precisely how to design it.  That is not unusual; very often we get ideas before we have a design ideal in place.  The only thing to do it bang our heads against it until the problem is solved.  As such, I'm trying a 3rd time ~ only this time, unlike before, I'm working on the problem privately.  I'm not posting the work in process, as I prefer to do.  I want to try to get some of it in shape before I expose the work.

Not all, no.  If I tried all, I would still be at this a year from now and no feedback.  But I will try to get at least twice as far as I have in the past.  I'm shooting to complete tech-9.

In the meantime, I'm going to tackle the other bugbear.  It kept coming up with the original idea and it came up again when I wrote the "world from scratch" post.  Readers just don't understand what I mean by "tech level" ~ and this is something I'd like to work out before presenting more hard material on these lines.

Perhaps "tech" has been the wrong word from the beginning.  I used the word because of ideas I took from the game Civilization IV, but that was probably a mistake.  As I think of it, my first experience with "technology" as part of an RPG was Traveller.  Technologies were rated from primitive to super-tech ... based, I think, on television science fiction of the '60s and '70s.  When Captain Kirk ended up on the Roman planet, the people there hadn't moved past technology of the 1960s because they hadn't invented it.  So, in traveller, if a tech level described a 20th century world, that intended a world frozen at that point in time.

So people wonder, when I say "tech level," how two regions with vastly different tech levels can possibly co-exist side-by-side, having nothing more than a river or perhaps a high mountain range dividing them.  How can it be possible that Paris is tech-15 but central France, just three days carriage ride away, is tech-11?

I think the word "tech" might be the problem here.  Let me try a different word: development.  Paris is more developed than provinces in central France that are three days away.  Just as a town of 8,000 people doesn't have a philharmonic, doesn't boast a major league baseball team and doesn't have a decent restaurant serving Thai food.  It isn't that that the people of Pleasantville don't know what these things are, or that they don't know how to build a huge football stadium ... it's just that there isn't much point, because there aren't enough people in Pleasantville and the surrounding counties to make that worth while.

Now, Pleasantville might only be twenty-five miles from Omaha; and Omaha might only be 7 hours drive from Chicago, but these are very different kinds of places.  Fifty years ago, before advancements in media and information technology, those differences were even more pronounced.  A hundred and fifty years ago, before cars and good roads, twenty-five miles was a much longer distance than now.  And 350 years ago, when my world takes place, there are many people who would never travel more than 25 miles in their whole life.  And they might never, ever, speak to someone from as far away as Chicago.

Which didn't exist in 1650, but you get my point.

Imagine that you come from a part of the world that is so backward it has no arrangements for making metal axes.  This isn't out of the question.  We could point to places like this as late as 1980, and quite easily. There are some still like this ... and there were certainly a lot more like this in 1850, 1750 and 1650. Forging metal is not a guaranteed community presence any more than a movie theatre ~ which many towns in Canada and America cannot boast.  We should be able to imagine a part of the world where the making of a metal axe is just not a thing.

This doesn't mean the locals don't know about metal axes!  Sure they know about them.  But it's hard to have them, at least for very long, because metal axes don't last.  Oh, sure, we might have one for awhile, but sooner or later the blade will dull, or the 17th century metal will corrode or even fracture after hitting one too many solid trees.  And then what are we going to do?  We can't just go get another one.  We're hundreds of miles from the nearest axe shop.

Yes, we might get together a few hundred nuggets of copper out of yon river, over time, and trade for an axe ... but what are the chances that a trader, with axes, is going to turn up here just as our axe breaks?  Oh, sure, the trader was here a month ago, but the axe was fine then.  Isn't it always the way?  No trader, no axe.  Shit.

The reliable solution is to get along without metal axes.  No worries about how sharp the blade is, no wading in cold river water hoping to find a flake of copper, no problems at all except flaking a good old-fashioned, reliable flint axe when its needed.  It's not like we're working hard on an industrial lifestyle out here: we raise a few pigs, we raise a few crops ... what are we really going to use that metal axe for, anyway?

Okay, a fence or two ... and it helps us cut wands for mud-and-daub structure building, and it's not a bad thing to split open the skull of an orc raider, when that comes up.  But it's not like a good stone axe isn't also practical in such things.

Truth is, where it comes to development, if you don't actually have the means to make the technology, actually having the technology isn't that useful.  Ask yourself: if all the computer stores ceased to make parts, for whatever reason, even if you still had power, how long would your computer or your phone last? Technology is a trap.  It makes the product, sure ~ but it also demands that the product keep being made, or else it ceases to sustain itself ... or the lifestyle everyone at this tech level enjoys.

There's a certain ease that less technology produces, where that heightened technology isn't actually needed. The people in central France in the 17th century are rustic in attitude because, unlike the elite hoi polloi of Paris, they haven't got time to read papers at the coffee shops, arguing about the latest play by Moliere. There are cows to be milked come five a.m. and there's no money for candles to stay up half the night writing plays.  If we're less developed out here in the fields of Bourbon or Berry, its only because that's the practical way to live.  Anyone actually burning a candle after nightfall is probably a local baron ~ who is probably writing a letter to someone in Paris about how glad they are that they're on their way back there in a few days.

So think of it as a development system ... describing how different parts of the world move at a different pace, because it makes sense in those parts to live differently.  My goal is to describe the difference, to measure it, so that while the Duchy of Burgundy is fairly backward at dev-11, at least it isn't the awful backwardness of Stavanger, Norway, at dev-9.

5 comments:

Ozymandias said...

In 2015, people were asking about flying cars. (As a joke because of Back to the Future, but still.) The thing is, we have the technology right now to have flying cars; or at least, we can build jet packs or small helicopters or something similar that will provide the power of flight on a small scale to one or two people at a time.

The reason we don't have flying cars has nothing to do with technology. It's the social development that surrounds this tech that prevents it from becoming a "thing." The demand, the acceptance, the laws and conventions governing individual air travel, the infrastructure, the established engineering systems, the factories producing components necessary to build the final product, etc.

Tim said...

I definitely like using the term "development" over "technology" in this case, as the Civ analogue doesn't really work the same way, and "development" is a bit clearer and likely also connects with our contemporary usage of "developed"/"developing" nations.

James said...

I would love to see the work in progress (your world from scratch and tech level posts were some of my favorites), but I get wanting to try another way. Good luck, because I am very interested in this concept.

Drain said...

A good case study would be Italy from the 5th century onwards, as Roman industrialization fell away in long tatters and this effect of "we don't know how this is done anymore" was in strong display.

My own thoughts on the matter are a calque of this post: in a world where knowledge is bottlenecked by oral transmission and reading comprehension, it turns out that the stone age can be a few choice killings and burnings away.

Thank god the printing press came around.

Maliloki said...

Oh man does word choice make a huge difference. I got (mostly) what you were talking about before, but it "feels" better using development level vice tech level. Interested to see where your work takes you, as always.