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We once lived in a galaxy filled with the wonders of technology indistinguishable from magic. Even the poorest beggar could afford this mass-produced tech. Vidscreens as real as life, longevity infusions and the occasional passage on an FTL ship. But then there was the Fall. Worlds died in torrents of violet flame, and the knowledge of Humanity was lost forever.

The galaxy is less spectacular now, but some can still afford these marvels of technology.

My question is: how? I want a world where pretty advanced technology is rare, but existent. Specifically, I want it to be made and repaired only by lone craftsmen or small collectives. So what conditions are necessary such that advanced technology can be crafted, but not mass-produced?

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    $\begingroup$ Well if they don't know how to make some of the parts needed to make the advanced technology work, then they could never be mass produced, but they could still be crafted if one manages to salvage said parts from pre-galactic Fall relics. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Dec 25 '17 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ None. Assembly lines started out as lines of craftsmen ... enter the world of mass production $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Dec 25 '17 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy, You can't make an integrated circuit with a line of craftsmen. That solution worked for Model-T cars. It doesn't answer the OP's question about intragalactic markets. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 26 '17 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ @jbh And you can't make an integrated circuit with a single craftsman, either. Items built with IC's are built to be disposed of, not repaired. The tradeoff we made was items are built to be reliable by making them not repairable (or reusable in any meaningful manner) $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Dec 26 '17 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy, I don't think that stringent a limitation is what the OP was looking for. An IC fabrication facility with today's technology that output a modest amount could be run by fewer than a dozen people. But a plant that can meet worldwide demand requires hundreds, and one assumes galactic mass production would have larger plants on multiple planets. My issue, as I understand the OP, is scale. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 26 '17 at 2:36
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Easy - magic (as the question states in its first sentence).

Not real magic, but science and knowledge lost to the majority, such that high technology devices can only be constructed by those indoctrinated into the magical arts and taught, not just how to mechanically construct these devices, but how to infuse them with the necessary 'magic' to make them work. A culture which would prize, revere, but also fear such arts, to the extent that the population would not wish to tamper with or investigate such devices too closely. The occasional accident, e.g. electrocution, might easily reinforce this.

Once this is culturally the province of 'magicians', there will be a natural inclination to leave it to that order. The 'magicians', of course, will have a vested interest in keeping it that way. The fact that this 'magic' is actually science would be irrelevant, because science would be lost to the majority of people and 'magic' a much easier way of understanding and explaining (you don't have to think too hard about it).

Very few people actually understand how much of modern technology works, anyway. If we take away the concept of 'science', we are left with 'magic'. To be honest, I'm not too sure that we are very far away from that kind of scenario, today.

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A key material was lost Building on @Andon's answer: The ability to aquire or manipulate any material upon which the tech is dependent is lost in the Fall. Be it antimatter, "duranium", or any other form of unobtainium. As @AngelPray suggests in his/her comment, this forces present-day people to scavange pre-Fall equipment for material or puts a lot of power in the planets or facilities that can produce the element. For example, planets that were the source for this material may have been destroyed in the Fall or the records to locate them lost. Smelting or other processing might have been concentrated in a couple of systems and were destroyed. This leaves a precious few places to get the materials and only a few places that can process it.

A key transportation technology was lost  People can still get around in smaller ships, but the tech to build the big super-tanker/freight ships is gone. "Mass produced" on a galactic scale is breath-taking. Consider for a moment just how many tons of wheat is needed to feed one good sized city for only one day. According to the USDA, the average U.S. citizen ate 132.5# of wheat annually in 2011. That doesn't sound like much, only a bit more than 1/3# per day. BUT, the population of LA in 2011 was 3.8 million people. That was 1.38 MILLION pounds of wheat DAILY. Generally, a semi-trailer can haul 55,000#, so we're talking just 25 truckloads a day (people who know about shipping are wondering at that cavelier statement). Now let's assume something stops diesel semi-tractors from working and all we have to work with are 1/2-ton pickups. Suddenly we need 1,380 truckloads, plus drivers, plus the congestion it causes, plus the hassle of loading and unloading.... The loss of those interstellar super-freighters all but shut down the ability to transport the mass-produced products to all the worlds, leaving access to parts and products in the hands of a few entrepenuers who can handle the load for people who can pay the prices.

The economy is in ruins Back in 2014 there was a shortage of .22 calibre ammunition. There were a lot of reasons for the shortage, but the point I'm making is, why didn't somebody take advantage of the higher prices to fire up another plant? Wouldn't they have made their money back? The simple answer to a complicated problem is "no." The cost of building an entire new manufacturing facility is really, really, really high. So, if your means of mass production was destroyed during the Fall, you can't just bang it all back together. Just the cost of cleaning up the rubble is prohibitive. Look how long it took to clean up Europe after WWII. This is likely the easiest reason why you don't have access to the mass-produced items anymore. The factories and manufacturing plants are gone, and no one can afford to rebuild them yet. This leaves small manufacturing facilities with severely limited distribution.

Employee shortages And that assumes that you still have the people to staff those centers. I assume people died in the Fall. Most planets will be desperate to keep employees in jobs that feed, house, and protect local populations. Who cares if anybody wants an intragalactic radio? Breakfast is much more important! The government might spare a handful of people to build/repair the toys congressmen depend on to look important... but only that handful can be spared!

When trade is cheap, information is power. When trade is expensive, trade is power. Massive ruination like the Fall inevitably shifts power. Beforehand, most of the power was probably in the hands of interstellar corporations... but those corporatations were gutted during the fall. Most were destroyed as symbols of tyranny and the rest were annexed by local governments as critical resources to protect local economies. This distributes the power massively, and now the little guy once again has the ability to exert his/her influence! With the big corporations gone (and, more importantly, their legal departments gone with them), small mom-and-pop shops building and selling cool tech are popping up all over the place. They can't produce anywhere near what the big corps could... but what they produce is amazing! Because innovation didn't die with the Fall. If anything, necessity breeds invention, and the Fall is actually responsible for thousands of wonderous new products ... that almost no one can obtain 'cause there's only so much stuff you can fit in the back of a proverbial 1/2-ton trade ship.

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  • $\begingroup$ Plus one principally for part 5 of your answer. It makes the most sense. $\endgroup$ – a4android Dec 26 '17 at 3:08
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"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." ~ Arthur C Clarke

Much of the technology from before the fall still works, but people have no idea how it works. Some simpler devices or parts of them are manufactured by blindly copying existing ones, possibly by small groups that horde the secrets of how they do it. Some more can be repaired if damaged but cannot be built. Others are unique and irreplaceable.

For example take a Laser Rifle where all three things might be true at once.

  • They know how to make chargers - by copying existing chargers.
  • They can repair or replace basic attachments like the handle
  • But if the focusing and energy generation crystals inside are ever damaged the rifle becomes unusable.
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This answer is a sci-fi trope in itself: Antimatter

Pre-Fall technology relied on antimatter power. The containment systems were incredibly advanced - And very, very stable and reliable. But part of that reliability is that they safely "vent" miniscule amounts of antimatter over time, so almost all of the pre-Fall antimatter storage containers are empty. They are moderately common, but in incredible demand so they're not cheap. The technology to replicate them is unknown.

Current technology can refuel these antimatter storage facilities, but it is a tedious and slow process. Where Pre-Fall facilities could produce antimatter in spades, current facilities are only capable of trickle-charging the antimatter containers. Keeping these facilities functional and safe requires significant investment. I view this as less of a production issue, and more of a fuel-rate issue. Even if you have a million gallons of gasoline, it'll still take forever to fill your car if the only method you have is transporting it across a road via shot glass.

For the rest of the technology, it's also a bit of scavenging and rebuilding things. Some is easier to fix than others, but almost all of it requires absurd amounts of power. While you can build a huge number of modern reactors to power it, it's far easier to just run an antimatter supply.

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    $\begingroup$ That feels very temporary, the people producing antimatter would make large profits and then start scaling up production. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Dec 25 '17 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ Depends on how you run it. If the technological limitation is how fast you can fill a container, it doesn't matter (Or anti-matter!) how much you have. I've updated the answer to build on this idea some. $\endgroup$ – Andon Dec 25 '17 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ the manga "gun god exaxxion" is based on a similar premise, the technology to reliably produce antimatter was lost when a reactor broke down and blew apart the planet it was produced on, taking out all the researchers who new how to do it, and causing a mild technological collapse (think a thirty year regression). Several key pieces of tech/infrastructure have to run on only the antimatter they have stored. A major war is started over the largest remaining store of antimatter the titular super weapon the series in named after. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 26 '17 at 1:53
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sorry the correct title is "Cannon God Exaxxion" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannon_God_Exaxxion $\endgroup$ – John Dec 26 '17 at 2:01
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A basic lack of resources. Well before the fall necessary resources had been used up in "nearby", easily reachable, worlds causing them to go farther and farther from civilized space to get them. After the fall, the only places those resources can be acquired are far from "known" space. Small civilizations or clans may still have the tech because they have passed down the knowledge of where to get the materials to make it, or perhaps secured a pre-fall facility of their own with information (processes, procedures, materials, locations, etc) known only to them.

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Cultural appreciation for craftsmanship. If consumers prefer to buy items that were made by hand with a "personal" touch, then that is what will be produced. Similarly, if consumers come to believe that mass-produced items are somehow inferior, then mass-produced items will not sell, and people will stop making them. This all assumes that you have a free-market structure in place.

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