Monday, September 23, 2013

266: Low Tech

ENTRY 266: Low Tech

“In a time of antimatter drives, resleeving, egocasting, advanced 3D printing, and interstellar exploration, it’s easy to overlook the fact that we’re in the middle of a low tech revolution. Transhumanity exists in extreme environments, and often doesn’t have the time or resources to come up with high-tech solutions to many problems. That’s why miners out in the Belt leave each other notes written in grease pencil, which can be used regardless of gravity or electromagnetic flux. The terraformer community on Mars is excited about a group shovel that can be manufactured at a fraction of the cost of powered excavator equipment, and which his based on a millennia-old Asian model designed for digging wells. It’s not all crude or unrefined, either. Many new low-tech items are still made from scavenged high-tech materials, or are carefully designed for portability and collapsibility. Would you rather be the gatecrasher whose flashlight fails and then the nearest replacement battery is a couple trillion miles away, or the gatecrasher with the hand-crank light that can be recharged at the expense of burning a few calories?”
- The Low Tech Revolution by Jane Awesomesauce

Using Low Tech

When the going gets tough, high tech has a distressing tendency to break down. Not all the time, but enough that keeping a low tech solution to a high tech problem on hand is a general rule of practice in the galaxy. Your character’s fancy laser rifle doesn’t have an attachment point for a bayonet just because it looks cool; it’s there for when the power pack runs out or an EMP fries the circuitry or something. Granted, the point at which your laser rifle craps out on you and somebody tells you to attach bayonets and charge is probably not the highlight of you existence, but the basic point stands: low tech solutions may not be great, but they are functional, and in an extreme environment or emergency situation that is the most important thing. Pencils and d-clips are probably never going to go out of style as long transhumanity still has physical bodies to wallow around in, because both function well in most environments and conditions. However, these aren’t going to be your grandparents’ low tech—no one is cutting down a precious tree to generate a load of pencils; they’ll use 3D printing to create a graphite stack with a handle made of biodisposable wrapper or something. The general simplicity of low tech makes it attractive to the maker community, colonists, autonomists, and explorers, some of whom use it because it is all they can afford, most of whom use it because it is more economic/efficient/environmentally friendly. A few, mainly gatecrashers, miners, and other explorer-types have been caught in situations where local conditions (zero gravity, high solar flare activity, plastic-eating fungus, etc.) make normal high-tech unreliable, and so prefer to have at least one low tech alternative available—even if it’s just a pocket multitool so they can build what they need from whatever is at hand.


  • En route between habitats, the PCs are hit be a micrometeorite swarm that damages the ship. They’re still headed toward their destination, but they may well have to come up with some quick low tech solutions to deal with problems like a failing air filter, loss of cabin electrical power, small punctures in the hull, and other problems—and all without access to the Mesh or most onboard computer systems.

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