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Understanding Technology

Tweet of the Day: Writing Excuses 6.13: World Building Communications Technology


I tried to tackle this subject from time to time and always erased the post out of frustration. The closest I’ve  ever came to posting something on the subject was this. But after listening to the latest Writing Excuses podcast, I decided to give another whack at it. That and you know how much I like bullet points. So on to the post.

Technology is the application of science for every day use, but even famed science fiction writers and futurist have missed as many new advances as they have predicted or said advances have come in ways unforeseen. Not only that, many writers within speculative fiction (and other genres) frequently underestimate/overestimate technology.  Here are a few things to consider when thinking about technology:

  • Technology is Evolutionary not Revolutionary: We often attach the term “leaps and bounds” to technological development but the fact is that technological revolutions are rare. The automobile has been around for over a century, the railroads for a century an a half. The telegraph dates back to the 18th century and even the computer dates back to the 1930s. And we are still using hammers, lever and wheels.
  • There is no such thing as High or Low Technology: The Industrial/Information Age(s) have inculcated in us the idea of High Technology, usually anything powered by electricity or run by microchips. But that doesn’t mean that it is better to more “antiquated” technology, unless it does the job required. The computer your using right now to read this has more power than all the computers used in the Apollo space program, yet NASA managed seven times.
  • Technology is the Great Equalizer: This tends to apply to military technology, but it extends to all walks of life. We employ technology to solve a given problem, such as being outnumbered on the battlefield, breaching a defense wall or calculating millions of transactions. The longer a technology is in place, the greater the chance that it will be adopted by the most users.
  • Technology is not Linear: While technology is evolutionary, it is also an aggregate of other technologies.  Take the old transistor radio. It was a fusion of cheap, reliable transistors, long lasting batteries, small enough speakers and an extensive infrastructure of radio program providers for someone to listen to.
  • The Main Driving Force Behind Technology is Socioeconomic: That may sound pedantic, but it is true. How to build a train doesn’t guarantee that it will be built. Many technologies languish in the shadow of others (internal combustion engine vs. electric motors) because socioeconomic forces have pushed one over the other (BETA vs. VHS). If there no perceive need for the tech or implementing it would derail the current socioeconomic scheme then it is more likely that it will not be implemented, regardless of its “promise”, whatever that means.

Those are just a few factors to consider when inserting tech (of any type) into a story.


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