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Techno Dystopia

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A Sub-Trope to the Dystopia and a setting version of Cyber Punk, 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 a 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.

Trope Codifier is probably The Terminator.

Typically features the Mega-Corp, AIs that are crapshoots, the 'i' aesthetic, and Killer Robots, often 20 Minutes into the Future.



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  • Apokolips is a hellish Greco-Roman style, technologically advanced alien world ruled with an iron fist by the tyrannical God-Emperor Darkseid, who is a literal God of Evil and has placed himself at the centre of a global and compulsory Religion of Evil that revolves around the perpetual worship of him, mainly in the form of mass forced labour whose sole task is to endlessly build monuments to him the old fashioned way (ie. by hand, with a few basic tools, with whips to keep you in line). As mentioned the planet is technologically advanced, and this system is thus designed not simply for Darkseid to glorify himself but also to completely break the spirits of the populace. It works, and though he treats them horribly nearly everyone on the planet would give their life for him, even if they hate him. To make matters even worse, Apokolips is locked in a millennia-old Cold War with its sister planet New Genesis, because Darkseid is an imperialistic warmonger with the ultimate ambition of taking over the entire universe and remaking it in his image... and he has the means to do it. His fondest desire is to eradicate free will and make every living thing everywhere a mindless, miserable automaton who will live and die at his command. And this only begins to describe why Apokolips is perhaps the single most horrible place in the entire DC Universe.
  • 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 homeward 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 
  • 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.

  • 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 thay they will remain content doing the duties in their respective castes. The humanity of this era also worship 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 is anthology series which the main theme of the episodes being the nasty consequences caused by the use of technology, so most of the episodes set in the future would somewhat count, but the most notable example is in the episode Fifteen Million Merits, where people live underground, having to ride exercise bicycles to generate energy, while television literally rules the society.
    • "Nosedive" of season three in particular, has 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)!
  • A few episodes of Doctor Who have done this, like "Smile", where the robots were designed to help humans and the best way they knew to cure sadness was killing the person — recognizing that human sadness is never gone. The way it viewed sadness, though, was through outward behavior, so humans were trapped in having to perform like Stepford Smilers all of 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.
  • Two episodes of Dollhouse 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 a war zone, some people going insane and others getting kidnapped for their bodies. Moral of the story is advanced technology will be abused by the privileged.
  • The first season of Viper 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.

  • Daft Punk's third album, Human After All, uses minimalism, emotional detachment and repetition to assert that with our reliance on technology, dystopia may not be a thing of the future. It may already be here.
  • The Protomen is a rock opera taking place in a dark, gritty Cyber Punk version of Mega Man (Classic) where Dr. Wily is a fascistic dictator aided by a very large robotic army. Dr. Light builds his own robots to fight against them, but both of them become disillusioned by how humanity is not fighting their own battles anymore, leaving them all to die.
  • Zager And Evans recorded In The Year 2525 that postulates that humanity of the far future will make itself obsolete, as more and more hi-tech devices supplant work, play, breeding, and thinking. The fourth stanza spells this out nicely:
    "In the year 5555 / Your arms are hanging limp at your side.
    "Your legs got nothin' to do / Some machine's doing that for you."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Feng Shui : The 2056 juncture of the Tabletop Game is equal parts Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. 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: Subverted. 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. Then came the Age of Strife, when the increasing appearance of psykers caused huge daemonic invasions, causing much knowledge and tech to be lost (to the point where the discovery of a schematic for a slightly different combat knife won the discoverers their own planet). The Dark Age actually gets its name from the ruling Ecclesiarchy, because men worshiped technology then instead of the God-Emperor.

    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.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Sonic Sat Am: Robotnik has taken over half of Mobius, and his half of Mobius (called "Robotropolis") is a huge sprawling metropolis of technology that is slowly but surely poisoning and rotting the planet, and where citizen are slaves to Robotnik (and those who refuse to bend to his will get Roboticised). The Freedom Fighters live in Knothole, a place where nature lives free and unchecked, and they fight to overthrow Robotnik.


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