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No Tech but High Tech

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Sojef: Our technological abilities are not apparent because we have chosen not to employ them in our daily lives. We believe that when you create a machine to do the work of a man, you take something away from the man.
Linkara: I'm sorry, but I'm not behind this. At least not in the way these pompous jerks are flaunting it. First of all, you HAVE machines. We saw your irrigation line, you idiots! And those clothes look pretty damn well-tailored for people who don't have the ability to manufacture them properly.

The Oxford English dictionary defines technology as the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry. Anything that we've created, be it as simple as a sharpened stick to hunt and kill more easily, counts as technology — in fact, a serious argument can be made that a chimp stripping a twig of leaves and using it to fish for termites is using technology, and that technology predates the human species by a very long time.

In fiction, however, the definition tends to get narrowed down to "inventions created within the last century" or even "anything digital". If you've got an episode where Alice mentions the presence of magic is making technology not work and they have to do it old-school, don't worry — your slingshot would still work fine, and your clothes won't suddenly disintegrate into dust.

There is actually a rather large correlation between when something was invented and how much it'll be considered technology. As an example, consider the Amish: in fiction, they're usually depicted as a group of people who shun all technology and rely on old-fashioned things such as horse-drawn wagons (even though said wagons are technology of a form). Generally, the cut-off is whether it uses electricity: if yes, fictional Amish won't be seen dead using it. In real life, however, many Amish groups are happy using refrigerators and air conditioning; what the Amish use and don't use are more based on the perceived societal impact it has (generally, those that make it too easy to live far away, or make you too dependent on the outside world, are considered bad technology, as the Amish subscribe heavily to the "everyone under one roof" idea).

At times, this trope is justified when the phlebotinum is stated to cause interference with electrical circuits as reason for why tech doesn't work (an EMP is a common cause), but then it's inconsistently applied: a car, for example, might or might not work depending on whether the writer knows that modern cars are increasingly drive-by-wire, so when a driver switches gears for example it sends a signal to a computer which then switches gears for you, instead of the gear shift being directly tied to the transmission. Firearms, too, might or might not work depending on whether the writer was using the phlebotinum as an excuse for why nobody is going in guns blazing on the enemies.

See also Enforced Technology Levels.


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     Audio Drama 
  • The effect of the alien attack in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama [Technophobia starts out like this, but is eventually subverted: Initally the "technophobia" manifests in a tech genius convinced that a voice interface she designed is haunted because it talks to her, or a cleaner suddenly unable to comprehend his own vacuum cleaner. But as the degradation progresses, the tech genius is unable to understand a "writing stick", and eventually loses her ability to comprehend language.

    Comic Books 
  • Discussed in Smax by Alan Moore. Visiting the homeworld of Smax, a High Fantasy universe, Robyn finds out her machines don't work. She is told that "science doesn't work in this universe", which she dismisses as nonsense: science means "the rules that make the material world work", not "fancy gadgets" (she also notes that Smax's world does have technology, if only wheels and levers). She then goes on to work out which parts of science differ and which are the same in the two universes. While this last question is not explicitly answered in the book, Robyn draws enough parallels to kill a dragon by applying astrophysics to its power source.
  • In the 2019 Marvel 2099 reboot, Doom derides the Thorites' claim to eschew technology, when they all carry hammers.
    Doom: This is technology. Chiseled stone mounted on a sturdy stick. This is technology at the root of technology. A tool to shape a world.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The film Star Trek: Insurrection features a group of Space Amish who reject technology, despite having irrigation systems for their farms and wearing clothing that doesn't look at all hand-made. They also admit to having warp capability—which is treated as a major milestone in technological advancement in the Trek universe—and demonstrate enough knowledge of positronic systems to diagnose Data's behavior in the prologue.

  • The Dresden Files: Wizards are Walking Techbanes to modern technology, so the titular Blue-Collar Warlock makes do with a 1950s-era Volkswagen and a premodern stove and icebox. Discussed when he speculates that it's a side effect of wizards' internal conflicts causing the Magic Versus Science trope to manifest, whereas earlier generations of wizards sprouted warts or caused milk to sour.
  • Played with in The Gamearth Trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson, in which the accepted idea that technology from one realm will not work in the other, magical, realm is questioned by a character who notices the vapor rising from his hot beverage and realizes that basic scientific principles still apply. In the final book, a steam engine, which should break down outside the borders of the technological realm, keeps running because there's no logical reason for it to fail.
  • In Harry Potter it's mentioned that the level of magic around Hogwarts causes havoc with technology. A camera, however, is able to work just fine with little explanation. Said camera uses darkroom-developed film, so it can be assumed it's a purely mechanical model. Combined with the fact that watches work just fine, it can be assumed the concentrated magic screws with any electronics more complex than a quartz oscillator. What is a result of this effect and what's a deliberate choice are often hard to disentangle; there are certainly no electronics in pens or notebook paper, but everyone has to make do with quills and parchment.
  • Justified in the Old Kingdom trilogy: Ancelstierre's technology is near that of early 20th-century England, whereas the Background Magic Field of the Old Kingdom destroys anything that isn't hand-crafted, effectively leaving it in Medieval Stasis.
  • In the Smoke and Shadows series, magic involves the manipulation of all forms of energy. That can interfere with technology that is powered by electricity or emits things like radio waves. But in most cases, this only happens if the particular magic being used specifically affects those things. Sometimes the exact reason may be mysterious. For example, Caulfield House drains energy from electrical devices and jams radio waves. But things like a kerosene-fueled lantern work just fine.
  • Rivers of London uses the "magic interferes with electronic circuits" explanation as to why "technology" in magic vs technology means "things invented after 1960". It also adds a few extra details like the fact both need to be "active" simultaneously, so a wizard can have a smartphone as long as he switches it off completely before throwing a fireball, and the fact this is very similar to the effect magic has on the wizard's brain if he's not careful.
  • This definition of technology was once summed up by Douglas Adams: Something invented before you were born is simply a normal part of the world. Something invented before you're 35 is cool and exciting. Anything invented after that is against the natural order of things.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Averted in an episode of Sesame Street where technology is defined as "a tool that helps you do something". A manual wheelchair is presented as an example of technology in the cold open along with a smartphone and flashlight. During the Word of the Day segment, a backpack is presented as another example of technology, along with a laptop, a tablet, an eReader, and another smartphone.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The main setting of Pathfinder is your standard medieval fantasy world, possibly with some early firearms if allowed by the GM. But then there's the nation of Numeria, which is overrun with robots and laser guns and such, which is what the rulebooks refer to as "technology". And of course the region has the obligatory Luddite town who nonetheless use period-appropriate weapons and agriculture techniques. The huge gap is at least explainable by the high-tech stuff having been salvaged from a wrecked spaceship; nobody actually knows how it works or how to make more.

    Video Games 
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura has magick being fundamentally incompatible with technology as its application makes complex mechanisms turn haywire — simple items like bows, swords of medieval suits of armor are fine however, even though technically bowyery or metallurgy still involve a level of technology. The explanation given is that magic locally changes the laws of physics upon which complicated mechanisms are heavily dependent, while such examples of technology are simple enough for magick to not interfere with their applications.
  • Caesar's Legion in Fallout: New Vegas reject "modern" technology for fostering human weakness, with rather arbitrary boundaries for what is or isn't allowed—which isn't made clearer by Caesar blatantly exempting himself from his own rules. Using most weapons (apparently including energy weapons and advanced Power Fists) is fine, but they can't manufacture or rely on them or use robots. The Legion only allow "tribal medicine" and not chems (drugs), not even stimpaks, but the crafting system (and achievements) indicates the healing powder and bitter drink they use is literally the same drug dispensed by stimpaks. Even more bizarre, the Legion uses, manufactures, and possibly invented hydra, which is a very addictive chem.

    Web Comics 
  • Freefall: Inverted 500-odd years in the future with the "Techno Amish", who use technology dating up to Windows XP (i.e.: the year 2001) because it's the bare minimum needed to lead the "simple life" on extraterrestrial habitats.
  • Lighter Than Heir
    • Zamorans claim to reject all technology while utilizing firearms and radio towers in order to wage war. What's more, they have a secret and unethical Super-Soldier program dedicated to turning soldiers into volants, though the scientist in charge of the program claims this doesn't count since it's focused on enhancing subjects' physical abilities rather than a technical pursuit.
    • Vogel, a Zamoran, at one point uses a metaphor about how it's more rewarding to climb a tree to get fruit than it is to get them with a ladder to explain his people's Luddite culture. This only allows the main cast to belittle and deconstruct his beliefs by pointing out that ladders aren't high tech, are more safe than climbing a tree by hand, and can actually be harder than climbing the tree in certain situations.
  • Averted and lampshaded in one Arthur, King of Time and Space strip, which has Lancelot trying to teach Guenevere how to use stirrups in the baseline arc, Guenevere complaining about a telepathic command system in the space arc, and Guenevere struggling with her smartphone in the modern arc and saying she "hates technology".
    Lancelot: Everyone thinks "technology" only means "anything invented after I was twelve".

    Web Original 
  • Discussed on Springhole: an article that talks about how "science vs. magic" shouldn't really be a thing points out that despite what some people think, a computer and a candle both qualify as "technology".
  • The French short movie Technophobe (here; you can choose English subtitles) is about a man who becomes allergic to technology, "technology" in this case being used as a synonym for "electronic devices". The movie ends with him literally adopting his grandmother's technology (she passes her stuff to him as a gift).
  • Averted with SCP-2184, a mammoth that causes the destruction of all objects created with post-Stone Age technology. It can even cause a fire to go out if it was lit with a match and ignores the existence of a pit dug with shovels or explosives.

    Western Animation 
  • In the episode "Fun on a Bun" of Futurama Zapp Brannigan remarks that the Neanderthals attacking them don't have technology, despite most of said Neanderthals carrying clubs, spears, a cage on wheels to carry a giant sloth and even a catapult. That said, defining technology in such a way is quite in-character for Zapp.
  • In ThunderCats (2011), the Thundercats' civilization was in Medieval Stasis up to the series premier. The widespread disbelief in the advance Lost Technology Lion-O tries to investigate is spoken of as believing all technology is a myth, even though the cats clearly have things like metallurgy and architecture.
  • Averted in The Fairly OddParents! "Land Before Timmy." Timmy wishes away all technology, and the world is returned to a caveman level of development. The people also begin to invent new stuff at a rapid pace, showing that if people need something, they will invent it.
  • Avengers Assemble:
    • In the episode "Savages", Cap challenges Tony to go a day without technology, which Tony interprets as dragging the Avengers to the Savage Land. The definition of technology doesn't seem to include fire, building a shelter (which Tony even calls "engineering"), Hawkeye using a sling, or even Tony forging new armor using local materials and methods. Played for Laughs when they decide Falcon's mom's cookies are fine because they're homemade.
    • Subverted in the episode "Downgraded", in which Hawkeye and Falcon find themselves in Vanaheim, where Falcon's flightpack is destroyed by electricity-eating monsters. Hawkeye, who's been snarking about Sam's lack of "skills", thinks Falcon is useless in a world with "no technology", but Falcon quickly realises that mechanics and chemistry still work just fine, and not only creates a canvas glider to replace his wings, but weaponry for both himself and Hawkeye, and even realises the mystic light that's supposed to repel the beasts is just a chemical reaction.
  • In the Miraculous New York special, Techlonizer averts this: the first piece of technology he steals and clones is a Revolutionary War cannon.

    Real Life 
  • High technology devices, such as Chromebooks, Smartboards, and iPads have been employed during increasing proportions of classroom instruction time during the school day, commensurate with the extent to which such high technology is used in students' personal lives. It's gotten to the point where some news articles ask the question of whether it's still important to teach handwriting.