Created By: superfroggy on January 26, 2011 Last Edited By: superfroggy on January 9, 2012

We Will Not Use Wood In The Future

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Trope
NOTE: Could somebody in the know possibly give me an estimate of the cost of building with wood versus metal? It would be a nice detail to include.
The future is a pretty awesome place (purportedly; we seem to be having some difficulty getting there in a reasonable period of time, so we'll have to wait and see). Robotic maids, Humongous Mecha, hardwood flooring...

...Okay, maybe not that last one.

In a futuristic setting, objects and buildings constructed of wood tend to be a pretty rare sight, with metal and/or plastic being far more common. This usually goes hand-in-hand with an aversion to other "primitive" building materials, such as brick or stone.

The most likely reason for this is that wood and similar materials just don't look futuristic enough. Much like how Our Weapons Will Be Boxy in the Future and how Everything Is An iPod In The Future, metallic architecture serves as an elegant visual cue for how far removed (temporally speaking) the world in the story is from ours. Removing this cue can disorient the viewer ("Wait, this show is set in 22XX? Since when!?"), so a bit of mild implausibility that doesn't matter much in the long run and which nobody will really notice or care about is a good trade-off.

Also, there are many situations where this is justified. There are places where wood just isn't practical or isn't worth the trouble of importing; more cynically, sometimes there are no trees left, period. This trope comes into play when "primitive" building materials are avoided outright, with no easy-to-find explanation.
Community Feedback Replies: 34
  • January 26, 2011
    EponymousKid
    This matter is addressed in the blog post of one Darths And Droids strip. Essentially, there's literally no such thing as paper in the Star Wars universe - precisely no culture has ever developed it throughout the entire galaxy.
  • January 26, 2011
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ That's No Paper Future. This is a Sister Trope.

    Anyway, I've seen it in some video games, like the Phantasy Star series, Opoona.
  • January 26, 2011
    Jasonbobdude
    It seems like this should only list aversions if it becomes a trope. It seems practically omnipresent.
  • January 26, 2011
    SKJAM
    Played with in an old L. Ron Hubbard story; the colonists on a particular planet are going crazy because they no longer need to burn wood for fire, and thus miss certain chemicals only found in wood smoke.
  • January 26, 2011
    Micah
    The Vorkosigan Saga nods at this without actually using it fully. When Cordelia goes from Beta Colony (high-tech with almost no natural resources) to Barrayar (fertile but recovering from a period of isolation), she has to remind herself that she's now in a culture where making things out of wood is a sign of poverty rather than wealth.
  • January 26, 2011
    BlackDragon
    Used and justified in Freefall, since Jean is a recently-colonized world still undergoing extensive terraforming. Wood is in extremely short supply. On the other hand, advanced material manufacturing techniques have made any 'dead' matter - including gemstones and gold - enormously cheap to produce. Diamonds have been mentioned as a possible waste-product of an incorrectly configured fusion-reactor. Sam Starfall jokes that if interstellar travel wasn't so prohibitively expensive, he could make a fortune trading trash between Jean and his homeworld, a swamp-world that seems to be on a tech-level roughly equivalent to 20th century Earth.
  • January 27, 2011
    fulltimeD
    Notable Aversion: The wooden handrail on the bridge of the Enterprise in Star Trek The Next Generation... though Star Trek in general abides by this trope.
  • January 27, 2011
    TBeholder
    • Nikolai Chernyshevsky's What to do? had a character seeing dreams of The Bright Future with houses made of... aluminium. The funny part is that such a Snark Bait remained in school reading lists after "metal of Socialism" became common.
  • January 28, 2011
    Fanra
    Not mentioned is the fact that wood becomes rare in the future because there are fewer trees.

    This is true in Real Life, as a great deal of current furniture is made of Particle board, rather then wood, because wood has become rare and expensive.

    Fictional:
    • In the sci-fi novel The Word For World is Forest, a colony is created on the planet Athshe for the purpose of logging the trees on the planet and shipping them to Earth. It is mentioned that the trees are worth their weight in gold, or more, since gold can be extracted from Earth seawater.
  • January 29, 2011
    CrypticMirror
    also from TNG, Picard's desk in his office which is a wonderful piece of carpentry. Although it does have some sort of glass of plastic inlay in the middle, the wood surround and supports are really nicely worked and look very stately.
  • January 29, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
    Averted for Schizo Tech in Warhammer 40000. In the age of lasers and plasma guns, the highest quality weapons will have hand-crafted wooden butts.
  • January 29, 2011
    Deboss
    Why not trim the title down to Metal And Plastic Future or something?
  • January 29, 2011
    superfroggy
    @Deboss I do like that one.
  • January 30, 2011
    Deboss
    That's generally how I see it show up. When it's not Crystal Spires And Togas or whatever the hell that trope was.
  • January 30, 2011
    AFP
    For the Star Trek example, also consider that they can use Replicators to make just about any building material they need, so they can use whatever specialized materials would work best without having to worry about the difficulties of actually producing it. They have less incentive to use wood because stronger and lighter materials can be more easily produced.

    Also: When did wood become expensive? Maybe in parts of the world where it doesn't grow in large quantities (such as much of the Middle East), but I'm pretty sure it's still pretty affordable in other regions (then again, I'm not a carpenter, so it's not like I'm versed on the prices of building materials). Particle board gets used for things like desks and dressers and walls because it's cheaper to produce, not necessarily because wood is expensive.
  • January 30, 2011
    OneInTwenty
    As similar to Picard's desk, many future desks are wood, but that's the only thing in the entire universe that is (even if trees are extinct) perhaps this is because almost all desks in modern day society used for props are such. More often than not this is used for series villains and old commanders alike. This is not used in something like "in the future, tech becomes akin to magic..." is there a trope for that?
  • January 30, 2011
    fulltimeD
  • February 4, 2011
    brogaglas
    In the So Bad Its Horrible Dracula 3000, the crew of a starship have to fight off alien vampires. The only wood on the whole ship that can be used to stake their hearts is found in a handful of old pool cues in the ship's rec room. Wood is implied to be otherwise too rare and expensive to use.
  • February 4, 2011
    TooBah
    In the Michael Mc Collum novel The Clouds of Saturn, refugees from Earth live in city-sized balloons. Wood is an incredibly precious material, and one character is shown to be wealthy because he has a desk made of it. Needless to say, it's a generally wood-free environment.
  • February 18, 2011
    Thebes
    @Fanra: Wood isn't expensive. Hardwood, the cool-looking wood used to make furniture is rare, but softwood, used to make 2x members, is cheap and plentiful (not to mention renewable). Wood is still widely used in construction, and is very useful due to its low conductivity. You just have to treat it for fire.
  • February 18, 2011
    Euodiachloris
    In the Dune series (books, films and TV adaptations), we have the Three Ps - so this trope is completely played with. Done straight (plassteel - does what it says on the tin), somewhat inverted (plascrete - uhhhh... with better-than-now-concrete-type-stuffy rather than steel) and totally subverted (pilingitam - "the Only P" a.k.a. very, very dead expensive wood mere pyons (peasants) couldn't hope to afford in a thousand years). Pilingitam is used to cover the more boring, but necessary, dullness of the others by them what wants to point out how much money they can afford to waste. Accept no substitutes, apparently.
  • March 17, 2011
    Thebes
    Wood vs Steel is a huge debate among the construction community. The two materials have very different properties: steel is significantly stronger than wood per unit mass; wood is a better insulator; steel is not flammable; wood maintains structural strength in a fire; steel is easier to transport; wood is easier to work with; steel has fewer risks of damages; wood is cheaper to install. Currently, wood is used more in residential and steel is used more in industrial, but in both cases the two materials are used together for maximum efficiency. That's probably more than you need for this. Anyway, steel makes way more sense for anything in space, but wood makes more sense for anything (non-industrial) planetside. tl;dr - Justifiable in many situations, but I think it's still tropeable.
  • March 17, 2011
    Echidnite
    Done intentionally in Daybreakers - when the population is almost entirely vampires, building furniture out of wooden stakes just wouldn't pass health and safety. The human hideouts feature a lot of wood, however.
  • March 17, 2011
    Fanra
    Particle board gets used for things like desks and dressers and walls because it's cheaper to produce, not necessarily because wood is expensive.

    Hardwood, the cool-looking wood used to make furniture is rare, but softwood, used to make 2x members, is cheap and plentiful (not to mention renewable).

    This is exactly my point. Hardwood is rare and expensive now, otherwise Particle board would not be used so often. As for softwood, it is much cheaper but compared to the past, it is much more expensive then it used to be. Just ask someone who is remodeling their house if wood is cheap...

    In England, they switched to coal from wood because they had logged so much wood there wasn't much left you could use. It is also true that coal has more energy per mass. However, the huge cost of converting everything from wood burning to coal burning meant that they would have never done so if wood was cheap.

    I own Particle board furniture. Believe me, if hardwood wasn't so expensive I would never have this crap. Wood is much better then Particle board.
  • September 19, 2011
    Worldmaker
    In the Larry Niven/Stephen Barnes novella "The Locusts", humans from Earth colonize a world that has plant and animal life, but no trees. What little wood they brought with them from Earth thus becomes worth more than its weight in gold.
  • September 19, 2011
    TechUnadept
    Star Ocean The Last Hope. Only primitive worlds use wood, advanced societies use glass and metal.
  • October 27, 2011
    Insignificant
    Bump.
  • October 27, 2011
    jatay3
    Averted in Traveller. One Blue Blood in a side story comments that one of his ancestors loved collecting Teak furniture.
  • January 6, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    Bump.

    Clarification on Freefall, as long as I'm here - Sam's homeworld has been stated to be in the middle of its equivalent of the Victorian age.
  • January 6, 2012
    JobanGrayskull
    Played for laughs in an episode of Spongebob Squarepants where Squidward is frozen and wakes up in the future to find out that everything is chrome. A flower briefly pops up out of the ground, but then a fish drives up in a truck to spray it with chrome.
  • January 6, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    In the "High Frontier" scenerio of orbiting space colonies proposed in the '70s and '80s by Gerard K. O'Neill and others, trees would initially be scarce because the Moon has little carbon and what carbon was expensively shipped up from Earth would have to cycle through the colonists' food chain, being too precious to keep locked up in the form of wood.
  • January 7, 2012
    bulmabriefs144
    The cost of steel siding: http://www.costowl.com/home-improvement/siding-steel-cost.html

    The cost of wood siding depends on the wood. Particle board is something $2 per foot, while rare wood can sometimes cost over $100 per foot if it's rare enough.
  • January 9, 2012
    JimCambias
    Note that wood burns, which means its use is highly limited in situations where fireproofing is important: there's little wood aboard ships nowadays, none on airplanes, and buildings like hospitals or prisons have almost no wood. Futuristic settings like spaceships or domed colonies would follow the same rule.
  • January 9, 2012
    VincentGaribaldi
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=f2iqu534tfi9k3wiv1z7efdx