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"Technological advance is an inherently iterative process. One does not simply take sand from the beach and produce a Dataprobe. We use crude tools to fashion better tools, and then our better tools to fashion more precise tools, and so on. Each minor refinement is a step in the process, and all of the steps must be taken."
Chairman Shen-Ji Yang, "Looking God in the Eye", Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

In Hollywood, people seem to believe that technology starts at fire and ends in people turning into energy; the interim would follow the exact same steps on every possible world. Often, this takes the form of people not from Earth creating exact replicas of Earth technology right down to the last detail — such as interface panels ripped right out of the Apollo missions on an alien space station. These copies are often similar enough that people who are from Earth often have no trouble at all using the device, or even interfacing their own hardware with it.

Similarly, seemingly distinct and diverse technologies will always develop at the same rate. An alien world with "Renaissance-era" technology in firearms will also possess lenses, ships, mathematical principles and sometimes even fashion identical to those of Earth (never mind the odds that an alien world would develop in a manner identical to a historical period that was a specifically European cultural phenomenon involving the rebirth and innovation of classical Greco-Roman civilization).

It's only rarely that a civilization will break off the path, and usually as a result of external forces providing them with something outside their capabilities (intentionally, accidentally or incidentally), such as a 1920s planet with fusion power, or a 1700s planet with radios. However, mastering this technology does not actually give them an understanding of related concepts, or even concepts which would be required to use this technology in the first place (thus averting Possession Implies Mastery).

Remember, don't think path, think tree, just as with the evolution of biological lifeforms. Except, in this case the distant descendants of unrelated branches can inspire and influence the future of others. For inspiring viewing, see the James Burke documentary series Connections, which shows the sometimes ludicrously unlikely places where inspiration and discovery come from, and the web-like connections between seemingly-unrelated inventions.

I, for one, can only look forward to the day that crystal-based technology paves the way for our conversion into energy.

See also: Enforced Technology Levels, Evolutionary Levels, In Spite of a Nail, and Tier System. Contrast Schizo Tech, Aliens Never Invented the Wheel, Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology, Alternate Techline, Anachronism Stew and/or Fantasy Gun Control.

This has some actual reference in the real world Kardashev Scale (how much total energy one gets to play with, no matter how). The Other Wiki used to have a list. See Abusing the Kardashev Scale for Fun and Profit for some fun speculation.


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    Comic Books 
  • An interesting take on this trope happens in one of Disney Ducks comics, where it is played as a natural result of reaching consequent Evolutionary Levels. While robbing Gyro's laboratory, one of the Beagle Boys gets accidentally hit in the head by Gyro's experimental "evolutionary ray". Over the next couple of days, he uses his newly heightened intelligence to develop a flawless bank robbery plan. This prompts the other Boys to give him the next dose. The hyper-intelligent Boy then turns to cyber-crime and ATM machine cracking. Amazed with the results, the other Boys ignore his warnings and break into Gyro's lab for the third time... only to discover the next day that he had reached the Crystal Spires and Togas level of intellectual development, gave all their money to charity, and went on to the UN to give a lecture on the elimination of crime and poverty. (They manage to reverse the effect, but the switch gets stuck.)
  • Green Lanterns shows this with the worlds four of the First Lanterns came from. Billions of years ago Colu looked pretty much exactly like 21st century Earth, Krypton was early Space Age but with medievalish clothing under the spacesuits, Mars seemed to be in the Western era, and Tamara was in its Bronze Age (or possibly its Hyborean Age).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The movie version of Harrison Bergeron created an elaborate setting where, while technology's capability was late-21st century, everything appeared to be set in the mid-'50s of the US, as people seemed to be "happiest" then, according to the Space Clothes wearing people who managed the conspiracy of the average.
  • Mentioned poetically in Godzilla (2014) for dramatic effect by Joseph Brody when he screams that the EMP coming from Janjira NPP's ruins will "send us back to the Stone Age".
    • And we would be here all day if we tried to list every example of a catastrophic movie event sending us "back to the stone age."

  • Parodied by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, as a species with a lot of arms is specifically cited as being the only species to invent the underarm deodorant before the wheel.
  • Known Space:
    • One short story takes a jab at this when the Kzinti encounter puny humans, who are still stuck with rockets when the Kzinti acquired the next step however long ago. It turns out that humans, having more experience with them, have much better rockets. Later they turn a Bussard Ram-Jet into a guided missile. Granted, the Kzinti skipped straight from the bronze age to reactionless drives thanks to a high-tech race that thought they'd make good soldiers. Their culture is still hopelessly archaic.
    • Averted, at least on the primitive end of the scale, in The Ringworld Throne. Discussing whether or not a troublesome species of Ringworld hominid is sentient or non-sentient, it's mentioned that different borderline species have developed different skills: an aquatic variety can't use fire in its native habitat, but has developed flaked stone tools; a raw-meat-eating species doesn't need fire, but raises livestock; and so on.
  • Humanx Commonwealth: In the Icerigger trilogy, the residents of Tran-Ky-Ky are an Iron Age culture that never invented the wheel. That's because Tran-Ky-Ky is an Ice World, and the natives mount anything heavy that needs to be transported on ice skates.
  • This gets brought up in the Zones of Thought novel A Fire Upon the Deep when the protagonists are trying to send aid by remotely uplifting an alien species on the planet they are traveling to. It is remarked that technological progress is much less like a ladder and more like a rock-climbing wall, there are many possible routes to the same types of technology and they need to figure out what the aliens already have in order to figure out how to give them the secrets behind constructing shortwave radios and firearms.
  • Discworld has been thumbing its nose at this trope ever since Moving Pictures. Notably, while the invention of film in that novel was a result of alchemists' being infected by the spirit of Holy Wood, it's also straight-up subverted when the resulting industry invents color movies before sound. Terry Pratchett's view of Technology Levels is "There's no reason why worlds should develop the same way. The Greeks had all the necessary theoretical knowledge and technical ability to invent the wind-up gramophone. The steam-powered gramophone, come to that. They just never did."note 
  • Myth Adventures has vastly different dimensions, but also trade in both technology (dimension travelers posing as inventors) and ready goods, so there's obvious difference between "rustic" and "advanced" places, but whether any given world is stronger or weaker in magical, technological or combined areas depends on tastes of its denizens, local resources and chance. And it can be specialized, of course.
  • Incandescence gleefully avoids this. Mostly it concerns itself with physics concepts — when you're a pre-industrial civilization orbiting a black hole, physics is really important — but, for example, the aliens in question discover the Kerr metric for a rotating black hole (which we derived in 1963) slightly before they figure out universal gravitation (discovered by some guy named Isaac Newton in the late 17th century).
  • Animorphs:
    • The Andalites somehow invented computers before books. They consider books to be more convenient. Apparently they have yet to invent a "Search" function.
      • This may be a case of Unreliable Narrator due to translation problems. It also doesn't help that said source admits that he sucks at history.
    • Discussed when it's mentioned the Howlers had functional spaceships before humanity left the trees. The idea that they're therefore unbeatable is shot down since there are some areas in which they're far behind.
  • In Dragon's Egg, while the Cheela's technological evolution is loosely patterned after mankind's, some of it is necessarily influenced by their environment — mostly the huge gravity and magnetic field of the Cheela home world — so they invent the sleigh instead of the wheel because gravity makes axles impractical and in their "metal casting"note  the molds need to be oriented along the magnetic field. Even after their First Contact with humans, where they model their culture and technology after mankind's, there are some things they just have to do differently — such as developing Anti-Gravity before space flight, because there's no other way to get off their world.
  • In the E3 universe in Ian McDonald's Planesrunner, the electric motor was invented before the steam engine, and everything is powered by coal because there is no oil.
  • Subverted in Dykstra's War by Jeffrey D. Kooistra. The Phinons have had space travel for eons, but they are a species with barely animal-level intelligence. They naturally live in the comet clouds between solar systems, and they evolved spacecraft-building as an instinctive behavior, like bees building a hive or beavers building a dam. Their ships' "design" is incredibly weird-looking and their "technology" extremely counter-intuitive, because it's not the product of engineering in the human sense.
  • The novel Where Sea Meets Sky in the Captain's Table series has the Federation debating whether a species that has simply domesticated living star ships counts, since they have warp travel, but not based on technology. The Star Trek: Titan/Typhon Pact novel Seize the Fire has a similar debate about a species that has developed power plants based on the same principles as the warp drive, but has no interest in space travel.
  • The Centran civilization of Christopher Anvil's Pandora's Legions has a scale for this, introduced by a mention that the latest Centran conquest is at 0.9 Centra-level. One problem with the concept is highlighted with the words that come directly after that introduction: "In some respects higher."
  • The Culture: The scale of Recognized Civilizationary Levels classifies cultures according to the technological benchmarks they've achieved. Higher-level civilizations sometimes mentor lower-level ones, helping them progress without being overwhelmed, but galactic treaties against "over-runging" prohibit technology exchange between civilizations more than one level apart.
  • In Poul Anderson's story "The Three-Cornered Wheel", a fairly advanced (though well short of spacefaring) civilization lacks the wheel because the dominant religion considers the circular shape too sacred to be put to mundane use.
  • Discussed in The Guns of the South. At the end of the book, Robert E. Lee asks Benny Lang if the captive Rivington men could build him a computer. He replies that the Confederates not only lack the technology to make it, but they lack the technology to make that technology, and probably a few more steps back from that too.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek:
    • The Prime Directive prevents them from interfering with cultures "below the warp drive level."
    • The Ferengi, who have super-sensitive hearing and live on a planet of frequent rainstorms, invented soundproofing before they invented the steam engine.
      • The Ferengi also have a similar idea of cultural development, but it is based on the complexity of economic systems rather than technology.
    • And then there are the Vulcans, who had very little metal and as a result skipped right to making a spacecraft to get some from off-world.
  • Stargate SG-1 is pretty much built around this premise. Although the plot explains that aliens posing as gods are purposely shaping development across the galaxy, this usually constitutes keeping people from becoming advanced enough to be a threat, and cultures which have broken-off from alien control continue to advance "as expected".
  • On Babylon 5 the step before "become energy" is "Organic Technology".
  • Averted by Fringe. Much of the first two seasons is dominated by how advanced the technology of the Alternate Universe is, but when we finally see that dimension we also see that a lot of things we consider modern (like airplanes and vaccines) would be considered sci-fi there.
  • The Orville: The series appears to play this straight, with an alien species we see in "Mad Idolatry" following the same ascent of technological and social progress we see the Earth underwent before, while surpassing them in the end.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: Justified. Human civilizations in different parts of the galaxy pretty much had their technological progress railroaded by the use of Standard Template Construct systems. In the past ten thousand years or so, humans haven't really developed their technology at all, so they avert this trope by side-stepping it.
  • d20 Modern: The d20 Future supplement gives technology based on "Progress Levels." Modern humans, depending on geography and infrastructure, go from about PL 4 to (late) PL 5. These, along with most of the supplement's flavor, were transposed directly from Alternity, which was previously published by the same publisher.
  • GURPS has a system of tech levels. It's very helpful when calculating whether a certain piece of equipment is available for purchase (and what it costs). Crafty game masters are advised to assign different tech levels to various sections of society. Tech Level 5, for example, is the Industrial Revolution, while modern developed countries would be at TL8 (although when the game was created in the early 1990s, "modern" tech was TL7). The system also introduces the concept of divergent tech levels, with the notation "TL('x'+'y')"note . TL (5+1) is (usually) steampunk tech, for example, while the Bamboo Technology of a certain modern Stone Age family would be TL(0+7).
  • Ravenloft: The 3E products use "Culture Levels", which combine technological progress with social changes in a sequence that's closely parallel to that of IRL European history. Unlike many fantasy settings, the Land of Mists is intended to capture the authentic flavor of Gothic fiction's classics, thus needs to at least somewhat emulate the real-world historical past.
  • Starfire: Tech levels are an integral part of the game. Your tech level determines what systems you're allowed to install on a starship. At Tech Level I, you get ion drive engines, nuclear missiles, lasers, and basic deflector shields. By Tech Level X, you're sporting 3rd-generation shields and armor, heterodyne lasers, charged particle beams (and overload dampeners that can absorb the impact of such beams), tractor beams (and tractor-nullifying shear planes), narrowly-focused force beams that ignore shields and armor, and space fighters.
  • Tomorrows War has three tech levels, however they're meant to be relative to one another, depending on the scenario a given TL can mean anything from AK-147s to plasma rifles.
  • Torg had levels not just for a universes allowed technology level but also for magic, social development and the influence deities could wield on the material world.
  • BattleTech: A faction's tech level is based largely on how much Lost Technology they possess. The Successor States barely remember how to make Mechs and rely on antique Jumpships and ComStar's similarly ancient network. As for ComStar and their militant faction the Word of Blake they religiously grab and hoard most examples of LosTek in the Inner Sphere. While the Clans are descendants of the Star League's military who took a lot of their technology with them and ensured that their factories and scientist caste would be safe from the constant warfare, so they have the most advanced technology in the known galaxy, but have effectively abandoned the regular use of everything that doesn't directly relate to the Warrior Caste.
  • Stars Without Number has seven tech levels. At 0, your most advanced technology is a sharp rock. At 2, you've invented gunpowder. At 4, you have hyperdrive, and a lot of the stuff that made the Mandate workable and has been lost in the Scream (jump gates, psitech) was TL 5. TL 6 is reserved for the really rare and impressive stuff.

    Video Games 
  • The Civilization series is a mishmash of historical accuracy and ridiculous(ly well-working) deviations for game play. Its Tech Trees rigidly follow Earth (Western) development on maps that are likely to look nothing like Earth. Civ III was particularly egregious.
    • It is possible to focus too much on one branch of the tech tree. In Civilization Revolution, it is possible to develop bombers, nukes and electronics before electricity. Likewise, in Call to Power, it's possible to develop fusion (giving you 23rd-century Fusion Tanks) before tank warfare (needed for 20th-century Tanks).
    • It can get worse. In Civilization Revolution, the British can get knights before most nations have Alphabet. Knights are pretty much superior to anything that isn't a industrial or modern unit. One wonder might let you learn Advanced Flight ahead of flight. This can lead to you learning Space Flight before your nation has steel, electricity, combustion, or flight. How did we launch a spaceship without that?
    • While not as egregious as some of these examples, in Freeciv, it is perfectly possible to build Ironclad units without having researched Iron Working, and to build and launch a spaceship without ever having discovered Sanitation.
    • Interestingly, recent versions of Civilization 6 have a gameplay option called "Tech Shuffle" to allow technology to be (more or less) utterly randomized, so you can have, for example, Modern Rocketry develop in the Middle Ages.
  • The Age of Empires games each have multiple technological levels (termed "Ages"), as do many Real-Time Strategy games inspired by them:
    • Age of Empires has four technological levels: Stone Age, Tool Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. Note that while it would be hard to go straight to making stone tools without using unmodified stones as tools first, parts of Africa skipped the Bronze Age altogether, and a Bronze Age setting with good heavy trade could similarly skip the Iron Age. For geological reasons, copper ore tends to be far from ores that would make decent bronze with it - so when metal trade is interrupted, or never gets going in the first place, humans turned to the softer iron.
    • Age of Empires II has the Dark, Feudal, Castle and Imperial Ages.
    • Age of Empires III has the Discovery, Colonial, Fortress, Industrial and Imperial Ages.
  • Rise of Nations, which covers a much broader range of history (from the Stone Age right through to 20 Minutes into the Future), has eight - three of which are in the 20th century.
  • Averted by the latest Galactic Civilizations 2 version, but followed by the rest of them.
    • Right down to the last detail, in fact. The "Technological Victory" condition literally involves researching a set path of technology until the entire race ascends to a higher plane of existence. Although choosing ones alignment (Good, Neutral, Evil) does alter the technology tree very slightly.
  • Master of Orion has a highly developed technological system that allows development in different directions in different games. There are disciplines with independent levels — 6 in the first game, 8 in the second.
    • Only in the third game is it made explicit that later technologies rely on earlier research, however. While some technologies are said to be extensions of earlier tech, one could go, for an example from the first game, to Scatter Pack X missiles tech without having access to the option to research the Stinger missiles on which they're based.
  • Mass Effect plays with this. The Reapers deliberately expose and spread mass effect technology, along with the mass relays and the Citadel, to deliberately guide organic technological evolution along the paths they prefer. They then cut this off when they invade and wipe out all advanced life while their tech is still at a limited, controlled state. It is implied that the geth, being a purely synthetic species, are developing along a different path than that set by the Reapers.
  • Averted by the Shee of Creatures. Both said aversion and the Shee's general mindset are best explained by a quote:
    "The Shee were a race unique in their mindset, most likely having invented the steam engine as an offshoot of an attempt to design a better way of brewing tea before they invented the wheel."
  • In Halo, the Forerunners and the Covenant use a seven-tiered scale to categorize civilizations based on their technology levels, ranging from basic tool-construction (7) to world-creation (1).
    • Humans have been all over the place on this; while prehistoric humanity was one of only four known species to make it to at least Tier 1, humanity circa 2552 (the original trilogy) were merely at Tier 3. By 2557 (Halo 4), however, the UNSC seems to have reached Tier 2, making it the strongest single military power in the galaxy now that the Covenant has split apart.
    • The scale also has a Tier 0 ("Transsentient"); while the Forerunners mostly considered it a theoretical ceiling, their own Precursors actually pulled it off.
    • An amusing species on the scale are the Brutes, who successfully climbed to the tier involving space-flight only to drop back down to the pre-industrial level again; hyper-aggression and nukes don't combine well.
  • Ascendancy doesn't have it explicitly, but pushes from Min-Maxing toward a general sequence. Theoretically, after a few must-have picks the Tech Tree allows very lopsided development as long as prerequisites are met. Practically, to climb up with sensible speed you need to generate lots of research points, so you need Prosperity to have more people working in labs and factories (at least until Automation is invented — after that, population growth is only necessary for colonization), you need production to build facilities that actually give you research, population, prosperity and more production.
    • Since alien ruins located on a number of planets give you random technologies, it is possible to get something from the very end of the tech tree at the very beginning of the game, without prerequisites. Facilities and improvements usually are immediately useful, though most need production. Good drives, shields and weapons on ships tend to cost a lot and/or need more powerful reactors - you could have a superweapon in a basic small hull, but at the cost of stuffing all possible slots with weak reactors - while better one on one, it won't have decent defence or mobility and normal cheap basic ships still can trash it after one shot.
  • In Diggles, the first buildings are made from wood and stones, then require sturdier materials like metal, then require mechanical energy, and in the last stages the power source of choice is a pseudo-nuclear reactor.
  • Advanced Strategic Command has "Technology Level N" entries on Tech Tree, though mostly for easy limiting units availability to a certain level.
  • The original Elite, which owes rather a lot to Traveller, used this trope in the background fluff. It doesn't have much effect in-game; certain after-market upgrades for your ship aren't available in worlds below a certain Tech Level, and you can turn a good profit shipping electronic goods from the local Higher-Tech Species to its less advanced neighbours. Also, it's justified, since these aren't multiple independently developing cultures - all of those worlds are human worlds, coming from the same high-tech background; they just don't have the infrastructure and capital to reach the higher levels of development. The lowest tech levels still use the high-tech mining hardware, robots and computers - they just need it shipped in, rather than producing it themselves.
  • Generally averted by the card-based system of research in Stellaris but primitive species are categorized by technological development ranging from Stone Age to Early Space Age, the relevant distinctions to players being the time required for Technology Uplift.
  • Empire Earth II:
    • The game makes an effort to make its various factions distinctive, but the need to balance armies by giving them units that they lacked historically (cavalry, siege weapons, guns...) means this doesn't always succeed. Of course, realism was never a big issue, given the fact that it has the Mayans, Aztec and Inca not only surviving but thriving throughout the modern age (even giving them crossbowmen, cannon and knights as unique units as time goes by), or America being founded in prehistory.
    • The epoch system that gets applied to everyone is based on European timelines, such as Middle Ages -> Renaissance -> Enlightnment -> Industrial.
    • Each faction has three unique units that can be produced during five epochs. Meaning the Japanese no longer know how to train samurai in the middle ages, and instead get the noncombat ninja instead, while the trusty Zero is able to compete with not-quite Space Planes. Similarly, the French have a giant catapult from prehistory onwards, 19th century cavalry in the middle ages, and a modern jet fighter in WWI.
    • One of the features are twelve technologies per age that provide some kind of bonus (resource gathering, unit stats, etc.), of which six at least need to be researched to progress to the next historical era. Not only are these the same for everyone, there's no explanation on how the Inca or Zulu discovered Arabic numerals.
    • One particularly egregious application has the evolution of infantry: light infantry (bowmen) eventually become mortars, while heavy infantry (sword- and spearmen) eventually get assault rifles and miniguns. The latter two can attack helicopters, while mortars can't... and setting up a Rock vs Laser match will show the bowmen not reacting to helicopters attacking them, while the macemen are bludgeoning the helicopter's shadow to death.
  • Warframe: Played with. The Orokin tried to use their highly advanced weapons against the Sentients, but the Sentients easily subverted their technology and used it against them. The Orokin were forced to resort to "zero-tech," ancient weapons without any real technology in them. But the Orokin were so ridiculously advanced that they didn't see much of a technological difference between a gun and a sword.
  • Rimworld groups the items on its Tech Tree into four rather broad levels: Neolithicnote , Medievalnote , Industrialnote , and Spacernote . A settlement at one of these levels suffers a research-time debuff for researching one that lies outside its current level, whether it's higher or lower, and unless you download a particular Game Mod the tech level your settlement is at depends solely on which starting scenario you choose.
  • Dawn of Man is a strategy-survival-management game set during Prehistory and early Ancient History. The game features six technology levels based on subdivisions of those eras: Paleolithic (actually based on its latter stage), Mesolithic, Neolithic , Copper Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. At the start of the game, you control a tribe of hunter-gatherers living in hide tents, dressed in animal pelts, and using wooden sticks as tools. At the end of the Iron Age stage, the villagers wear wool clothes, wield steel weapons and tools, inhabit stone-walled thatch-roofed roundhouses, transport raw materials and goods inside wheeled carts pulled by domesticated horses or donkeys, and subsist from large crop fields and cattle breeding.
  • Star Control II mentions this in its world-building: the cowardly Spathi jumped from bronze to nuclear tech within a century in order to evacuate their planet when the Evil Ones appeared, and the ultra-macho Thraddash have blasted themselves back to the Stone Age multiple times.
  • Horizon series:
    • Horizon Zero Dawn: The three main tribes have clear technology levels: The Nora hunter-gatherers are still Stone Age, the Carja cities are late Stone Age or perhaps early Bronze Age, and the Oseram smiths are early Steel Age. However, this is all complicated by the fact that there are Mechanical Lifeforms wandering everywhere; the Nora use composite bows made with metal parts and wire strings with explosive tripwires, the Carja wear metal "feathers" as a fashion statement and armor, and the Oseram deconstruct the machines to create high-tech weapons like a magnetic railgun that fires explosive balls. The Banuk are Stone Age like the Nora but have also discovered a few primitive ways to control the machines, giving them some advantages over the other tribes.
    • Horizon Forbidden West: The three new tribes have their own tech levels. The Utaru are a purely agricultural society who learned everything from watching their "land-gods" (automated planting/harvesting machines); it's unclear how much they actually understand about agriculture, since they've never had to handle it themselves. The Tenakth are at about the Nora level of hunter/gatherer, but they do have metalworkers to at least a limited extent (and they taught the Utaru what they could to help defend against the Carja). Where they really shine, however, is their military culture; since they based their culture on holograms in a military museum, they have a very modern understanding of military readiness and organization, which is what allowed them to fight off the more advanced and numerous Carja. Finally, the Quen found a cache of primitive Focus devices that let them access a good amount of Old World data. The advancements in agriculture, military, and the arts allowed them to conquer an empire on their own continent, and they built great sailing ships to cross the vast ocean, thus putting them quite clearly at early Age of Sail.

  • Parodied in Irregular Webcomic!, possibly as an homage to the example from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy above. When asked about the low population of elves, a PC replies, "Elven children breast feed for 30 years, teethe for 20 years, throw tantrums for about 100 years... and don't take to toilet training until they're about 200." "Yeah. Elves invented effective contraception before we could use fire."
  • Outsider uses a modified version of the system present in GURPS, tweaked to account for technologies specific to the comic and described here, which quantifies the development of technological civilizations into several "tech levels" of increasing complexity that go from 0 (Stone Age cultures) to 16 (Sufficiently Advanced Technology). Modern humanity is in the early stages of TL8 (early cybernetics, railguns, bioengineering and 3D printing); humanity in the comic proper is in late TL9 (FTL, Inertial Dampening, Artificial Gravity, longevity treatments); and the major interstellar powers are in early TL11 (plasma weapons and force screens), with the reclusive Historians somewhere in TL12 (Reactionless Drive and AI).

    Web Original 
  • Orion's Arm carefully lays out post-Singularity tech levels based around the relative intelligence levels of ever more complex transhuman and AI minds. Pre-Singularity humans can at best make basic nanotech and antimatter drives. At S1 Brain Uploading and matter-to-energy conversion drives become possible. S3 minds can create Wormholes, and S4 or higher can produce Reactionless Drives.

    Western Animation 
  • At first glance, the Avatar franchise seems to play this straight. The nations use their bending powers to help create technology- for example, Fire Benders use their head to power the steam industry. There is a clear progression in technology; in the original series, we see a nation having their industrial revolution while the majority of people used more old fashioned methods, while by The Legend of Korra they've got things such as cars and motorcycles readily available. In the end, its subverted. Although there's a progression in technology, it seems rather chaotic. Lampshaded by the abridged series as follows.
    Sokka: Let Me Get This Straight.... You can invent tanks, jet skies, and a GIGANTIC freaking drill, but the concept of a hot air balloon eeellluuudddesss you?
  • Played with in Ben 10. On one hand, most planets do follow a near-fixed path of technological discovery. On the other hand, said path is very unlike Earth's — universal translators are usually invented about at the same time as combustion engines, and radio transmissions rarely predate nuclear fusion. Some technologies on earth are far in advance of what we should be able to produce.
    • There are twenty technology levels in all, with Earth bordering Level 3 but said to be about five centuries away from fully reaching it. Simple tools such as hammers and the wheel are Level 1, nuclear fission and universal translators are Level 3, Energy Weapons are Level 5, and the Omnitrix itself is Level 20. Fans have inquired about where technology from other franchises would fall on the Ben 10 scale, and according to Word of God the Batmobile would almost be Level 3 and Pok√© Balls would be Level 15.

    Real Life 
  • Steam power is a good example of a real-life instance of this trope: Heron of Alexandria was messing around with steam expansion and pistons by 80AD but never quite put the two together outside of a few novelty toys. In fact, the Romans appear to have invented steam power at least three separate times, and were extremely advanced theoretically in many aspects of engineering. They understood that an "engine" which could replace slaves you have to feed, house, and keep happy enough that they don't kill you in your sleep might be possible and useful in the same way we understand that a fusion reactor might be possible and useful. So why didn't they have an industrial revolution in 200BC? Beyond the economic hurdle of competing with slave labor and animal power, they lacked calculus and certain physics formulas needed to engineer large-scale engines, the metallurgy to contain the pressure, accessible fuel deposits, and a need for more mechanical power than simpler industrial-level power sources like waterwheels or windmills could provide. Lacking these things, the steam engine remained a curiosity fondly used by tinkerers to power devices like singing mechanical birds for centuries before the world hit the "critical mass" of related technologies and economic incentive required to turn theory into fact.
  • The Antikythera mechanism is an example of a real life aversion, an analog computer containing gearing more complicated than anything which would be seen for over a thousand years thereafter. The Greeks never did anything more powerful with it, potentially in an enforcement of technology levels as they lacked many intermediate technologies we take for granted, and the technology was lost and reinvented later on.
  • The Incas had a system of roads that spanned their entire empire... but never used wheels except in toys. It Makes Sense in Context: the Incas lived in the steep Andes, so most of their roads involved steps up a mountain. Wheels would be inconvenient compared to walking or riding animals.
  • Writing in general is an aversion of this trope. Most (but not all, see below) societies (e.g. the Inca, above) with more than one city and a centralized government of any kind end up inventing a system for representing numbers and identifying objects, so that tax reports can be filed and the empire maintained; only very, very few times has anyone independently had the idea to take this to the next level and try to represent sentence structures, so that narrative structure could also be recorded. We know it happened at least twice, in Mesoamerica (Olmec pictograms) and Mesopotamia (Sumerian cuneiform). All other known writing systems could have gotten the idea from one of these two; the most likely candidate to have been a third independent invention is Chinese oracle bone script, but it's possible that the idea, if not the format, was carried to China by traders. Likewise, it is unknown if Egyptian writing was inspired by Sumerian cuneiform or was an independent invention as well - indeed, there are some indications their phonetic writing may even predate cuneiform, and the symbolic basis for their language is known to be independent. Rongorongo may or may not be yet another (semi) independent invention of writing, though whether Rongorongo even represents "true" writing is unknown, and there is a great deal of suspicion that if it does represent writing, it was inspired by seeing instances of writing in the past.
    • Writing is not even a prerequisite for large-scale social institutions. There were a number of Western African empires (perhaps most famously the Kingdom of Mali's) that dominated fairly large expanses of territory without any form writing whatsoever, instead relying on oral communication and the memory of specially-trained Griots to maintain commercial, legal, and historical records.
  • Farming and domesticated animals are often brought up together as if they presuppose one another or "naturally" arise together. As a matter of fact, they don't. The dog was domesticated long before any crops were and societies in Oceania and the Americas had domesticated a wide variety of crops and only a handful of animals if that (llamas, guinea pigs and sorta-kinda turkeys), because those were all they had. The fact that the old world contained so many domesticable animals caused many diseases to jump from humans to animals and back in the old world but not the new world. The result when Europeans happened upon the Americas was devastating and not entirely understood until the 20th century. On the other hand some of the real life Multipurpose Monocultured Crop were first domesticated in the Americas, above all corn (maize) and potatoes. And even today there are societies with animal herding but hardly any farming and vice versa.

Alternative Title(s): Tech Levels, Tech Level