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Techno Dystopia

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A Sub-Trope to the Dystopia, a technological dystopia — that is, a dystopia caused by the introduction of new technology, not just one featuring it — is a Bad Future setting that isn't particularly crapsack. It looks nice and clean, and normal, and progressive — maybe even overly nice and fluffy. Robot servants wait on your every need, death is at an all-time low and everyone looks happy.

Don't thank the robots and you'll be imprisoned for social rudeness. Death is not a way out. Nobody knows the truth, or Happiness Is Mandatory.

Everything is monitored, and technology has replaced enough of interaction to give it unofficial control over the world (either literally or figuratively) so much that one update change or unfixed minor bug could shut a country down. And technology, a human invention, is one clever way to explore more of humanity's flaws and how we have brought this on ourselves.


It's also a useful way to explore if this dystopia could, perhaps, be the world we are living in. It looks like Utopia, but computer says no.

A twist on the setting is to discover that the humans being oppressed are actually some form of robot or synthetic life form, beginning a discussion on what makes a human.

What usually makes it is that the people living there think this is the best the world can get when it's clearly designed for the audience to be appalled at the situation. It usually takes an Audience Surrogate outsider to enter the dystopia or get a knock on the head in order to start up La Résistance.

Typically features the Mega-Corp, AIs that are crapshoots, the 'i' aesthetic, and Killer Robots, often 20 Minutes into the Future. Compare Cyberpunk, a darker and grittier subtrope which takes this concept and combines it with Film Noir-inspired aesthetics/themes.



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    Anime And Manga 
  • Psycho-Pass takes place in a technologically-advanced country where bio-monitors check and calculate (using the criminal-prediction Sybil System) for potential criminals, sending hit squads of regulated criminals with laser guns to kill off serial killers. Sounds safe yet awesome - except these potential criminals are usually just random citizens who have had a bad day and began questioning the system that rules over every single facet of their life with constant surveillance and more drones than people. The main antagonists are criminal masterminds whose psychological profiles are undetectable by the system, allowing them to legally get away with murder and corruption because it would expose the flaws in security. As they game away and reveal how depraved and schizophrenic 'sane' humans can be without any freedom or responsibility in their livesnote , the Sybil System freaks out and enforces totalitarian edicts to keep order and look competent, effectively killing some of the people it is supposed to protect. The icing on the cake is the insanity programmed into the very core of the Sybil System as an intentional insult to justice itself: it's actually made of human brains wired together, and a core requirement to be selected for brain harvesting is the ability to commit crimes without being detectable by others (criminally asymptomatic), with textbook psychopaths taking up the core of the system's leaders.

    Comic Books 
  • Transmetropolitan. Seems to be a subverted dystopia, with the initially filthy and crapsack future setting being revealed as essentially the same as today, just with the volume turned up by technology and increased the population. Though some of the modern world's problems have been defeated (pollution has ceased to be an issue, for example), it's clear the influence of technology has crowded the world and drowned out human kindness.
  • In Pre-Crisis days, Brainiac's homeworld of Colu started out like this. They'd had a Robot War, and the robots won. The "Computer Tyrants of Colu" built Brainiac as their agent and sent him out into space, but he eventually returned home to find that the organic population had successfully revolted and regained control of their planet, averting this trope. As for Brainiac, this just meant his bosses were dead and he was now free to be a self-directed spacefaring super villain all on his own.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Anon takes place in world without crime. Minds Eye records everything you do and uploads it to the cloud. Privacy is dead, everyone is monitored constantly, and everyone knows everything about people they just met. The dull expressions on citizens' faces are due to them being smartphone zombies dialed Up to Eleven.
  • Brazil would be a more crapsack example: a satire of dystopian fiction like 1984, this black comedy is set in a repressive totalitarian society in an ambiguous time "somewhere in the 20th century." The society and its technological infrastructure are decaying and this is a big part of the plot. For example, simple mistakes like a bug getting squashed on a form result in the state executing innocent civilians instead of the rebel freedom fighters they are after. Huge ducts invade every restaurant and home. Electronic surveillance is everywhere but despite the high tech level, nothing works right, everything is decaying, decrepit or just gross, and the information is tightly controlled by those in power in a Vast Bureaucracy so absurdly disorganized, incompetent and committed to pretending any issues that pop up are some other department's problem that not even they have a clue of what the hell is going on.
  • Zigzagged in Minority Report, where Pre-Crime is the ultimate culmination of a world in which Big Brother Is Watching. Despite that, Pre-Crime's positive benefits aren't glossed over at all, and arguably its flaw lies not in being inherently bad technology, but in one corrupt individual interfering with it for his own purposes. Indeed, apart from a thriving black market, crime and social decay seem pretty negligible in this future. But potential criminals are imprisoned in inhumane bondage chairs where they are forced to watch their potential crimes on loop, effectively torturing and brainwashing them into becoming the criminals they could have beennote . The pre-cogs are treated like inhuman slaves in order to cope with the idea of forcing three kids to watch mass-murders their entire lives.

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The setting takes place in a hyper-advanced society known as the World State, a Totalitarian Utilitarian False Utopia bent on maximizing happiness as much as possible. However, by doing so, it forced humanity into genetically-engineered castes, subjected to conditioning, and constantly drugged and entertained so that they will remain content doing the duties in their respective castes. The humanity of this era also worships Henry Ford, the inventor of the assembly line and thus the indirect founder of the World State's technocratic culture.
  • Kurt Vonnegut's recurring character Kilgore Trout is a science fiction author said to specialize in dystopian stories. In one of them, human beings have become so irrelevant in the face of advanced technology that suicide is seen as an act of great virtue and patriotism since it rids the nation of one useless mouth to feed.
  • In "Insert Knob A in Hole B", Hansen and Woodbury are struggling with life on Space Station A5, due to the fact that none of their equipment works correctly.
  • The 1907 novel The Lord Of The World by Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson shows Western civilization as having turned into a socialist, technologically-advanced society that persecutes those still clinging to religion and individualism, and attempts to stamp out Christianity once and for all.
  • Of Mice and Mooshaber is set in a country that is only vaguely alluded to by names or background events. The state is controlled by dictator Albin Rappelschlund who governs the country nominally with support from the rightful ruler Duchess Augusta. The civilization and technology of the country appear advanced: there is metro, satellite transmission, television broadcasting, and flights to the Moon are common; however, this bizarrely contrasts with things like child labor, horse-drawn wagons, rural-like inns in the capital city or State Office for Suppressing and Annihilating Witchcraft. People fear everything and cannot trust one another.
  • This Perfect Day by Ira Levin depicts a communist technocratic dystopia controlled by a computer. In fact, at the end it is revealed that the computer is controlled by a programmer elite.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Black Mirror, an anthology series where the main theme of the episodes the nasty consequences caused by the use of technology, has most of the episodes set in future worlds of this sort.
    • The most notable example is "Fifteen Million Merits", where people live underground, having to ride exercise bicycles to generate energy, while television literally rules the society.
    • "Nosedive" has what is basically a Facebook dystopia. Be sure to like everyone whose business you appreciate (because if you don't their reputation is at stake, and poor reputation means they can be barred from travel options, lose their job or house, or basically become an outcast)!
  • Doctor Who: A few episodes have done this.
    • In "Smile", robots are designed to help humans and the best way they know to cure sadness is to kill the person — they recognize that human sadness is never gone as long as the person lives. The way they recognize sadness, though, is through outward behavior, so humans are trapped in having to behave like Stepford Smilers all the time to avoid being murdered. Eventually, the Doctor disconnects the robots but doesn't find it humane to destroy them, and so tells the new humans to negotiate with them. However, the robots are self-learning, and so it's almost guaranteed that they'll develop the same pattern of "literally destroy sadness" again.
    • The show first ran the "sadness is illegal" schtick in the 7th Doctor episode "The Happiness Patrol," perhaps most memorable for featuring a homicidal robot made of candy.
  • Star Trek: This pops up on occasion. The most notable example of the original series is probably "A Taste of Armageddon", where a planet tries to make war more civilized by calculating an appropriate number of casualties and having them "voluntarily" step into death chambers. Roddenberry's point seems to be that technology can solve social problems, but not without a fundamentally human touch.
  • Dollhouse: Two episodes are set in the year 2019 after the show's technology had been used to transfer the rich into younger bodies permanently. The situation snowballed until the city is in a state of total anarchy, some people going insane and others getting kidnapped for their bodies. Then it became possible to deploy the technology on a mass scale, and countries started mind-wiping each other's population centers for fear that it would happen to them them first. The moral of the story is advanced technology will be abused by the powerful.
  • Viper: The first season takes place in a dystopian tech noir setting. The day after tomorrow, society benefits from advanced communication technology and medical achievements such as fully artificial heart transplants. However, this comes at the cost of being constantly terrorized by the organized techno-mafia that closely runs the city behind the scenes. The police are often as corrupt as the criminals they're supposedly trying to stop, forcing the lead character to take the vigilante path in the hope of restoring the city to a brighter state. Throw in the fact the local government may rob you of your own thoughts and memories if they decide they have a better use for you, and you start to see how bleak it really is.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Stasis", society is divided between the Elites and the considerably larger worker population, who are themselves split into the Alphas and the Betas. Fifty years earlier, the Stasis Initiative was introduced. It involves half of the worker population being placed in stasis for 72 hours at a time in order to conserve resources. Each Alpha has a Beta stasis partner who has the same job and lives in the same accommodation while their counterpart is in stasis. As such, each worker lives only half a life. The Elite, who are exempt from stasis, have developed into an aristocracy who suppress and persecute the workers. About 2% of the Elite are former workers but they are no more than a Token Minority. Eric Waters, a Beta who is in love with an Alpha named Larissa Whitestone, is horrified when he discovers that the Elite intend to convert the Alphas into fuel in order to power the City.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Feng Shui : The 2056 juncture of the Tabletop Game is equal parts Brave New World and 1984. The Buro government monitors its citizens constantly, same-race relationships are frowned upon at best as "racist" and punished at worst, guns and kung fu are outlawed, it's a crime to be unhappy, all TV (except for advertising) is pay-per-view, you can't get ahead unless you work for the Buro, and the only thing worse than falling into the Public Order (2056's brutal police) machine is letting the Bureau of Happiness and Productivity get hold of you — Mind Rape is the absolute kindest term for what these guys do to people. And that's not even mentioning the CDCA (the group responsible for arcanowave technology and the Abominations) and the creepifying horrors that they get up to.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Inverted for the Imperium. The Dark Age of Technology was by all accounts the high point for humanity as a whole: mankind expanded throughout the stars conquering planet after planet, with technological marvels assisting them every step of the way. There was a point when a supercomputer-uprising caused everyone to abandon artificial intelligence entirely, but the increased manual labor wasn't lethal. Then came the Age of Strife, when the increasing appearance of psykers caused huge daemonic invasions, causing much knowledge and tech to be lost; by natural selection, the repressive and totalitarian planets killed off their psykers inhumanely, indirectly saving them from daemonic invasions. After that, an immortal hero tried to conquer the galaxy to save humanity (his Imperium), but he lost the war against Chaos due to his pride and the Imperium has become a techno-luddite dystopian nightmare where innovation is second only to betrayal and nearly every human believes that advanced technology must be dug up from precursor caches rather than inventednote . The Dark Age actually gets its name from the ruling Ecclesiarchy, because men worshiped technology then instead of the God-Emperor.
    • Played straight for the Necrons, however; they lived on a miserable hyper-radioactive planet that conditioned them all to be sociopathic Omnicidal Maniacs, but the Old Gods paid them no mind - until they invented their own gods through mad science, brutal technology, and 'celestial fart-gas'. Said gods promptly ate their souls and sent them on a warpath that ravaged the entire galaxy, birthed the chaos gods, and eventually lead to grimdark future the series takes place in.

    Video Games 
  • Crackdown's setting is unique in that it has three different flavors of dystopia, each just as crapsack as the next. Do you prefer the "Lawless gangland hell, with lots of crumbling infrastructure" flavor? Check out La Mugre (eng. The Dirt). Is the "Bleak communist dictatorship with everything run by the mob" flavored dystopia more your style? The Den has you covered. Or maybe you're more the "Hi-tech cyberpunk dystopia with everything (and everyone) owned, enforced and manipulated by an absurdly powerful Mega-Corp" type? Look no further than The Corridor. Even more high-tech cyberpunk dystopia ruled by immortal killing machines? The Agency itself.
    • Crackdown 3 manages to top all of the above with a supervillain whose first assault on the world destroys the electrical network across the entire world with Unobtainium-powered electro-magnetic pulse missiles that last for years, throwing the rest of the world into a dark age while putting herself on a pedestal as the only hope for humanity, all while her cutting-edge systems are secretly run by mad scientists who use the influx of refugees as test subjects. It gets so bad that one of the above groups are the heroes of this game.

    Web Comics