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In my writing there are people in a high fantasy setting with medieval technology, although there are times when they are involved with our world.
My question is, they are aware of our technology and some are familiar with its workings, so why wouldn't they use it?
(In short why do they prefer not to use our's?)

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  • $\begingroup$ Luddism and neoluddism are actually a thing. $\endgroup$ – Renan Feb 4 '18 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "prefer not to use ours"? Obviously, mobile phones won't work in medieval Prague, but they would be silly not to import pocket knives, hunting knives, cheap copper and brass, files and saw blades, synthetic dyes, bales of cheap fabrics, spools of thread, reams of dirt-cheap paper, pencils etc. There are countless items of trade which are very cheap in the modern world and would be of immediate use in the Middle Ages. Consider for example ordinary buttons, the kind used to fasten clothes. The price differential of buttons between now and then is huge. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 4 '18 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP your comment has a good point. i guess i was meaning the power (mechanical) and warfare side of things. $\endgroup$ – Ajnatorix Zersolar Feb 4 '18 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ Charlie Stross examines this question quite a lot in his Merchant Princes books - there is limited teleportation between the present day and a medieval world, where they do end up using as much tech as they can get their hands on. But it's a very small amount for the upper class, limited by the physical ability to import it. $\endgroup$ – pjc50 Feb 4 '18 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ What about putting magic out of the equation? $\endgroup$ – Oleg Lobachev Feb 4 '18 at 22:28
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Most likely because they cannot use it due to the lack of infrastructure.

The creation of modern machinery and weaponry requires a vast basis of developments and knowledge from metallurgy to chemistry, mathematics and physics, given that most of our modern world relies of electricity as a source of power. The creation of a modern day gun is impossible with even the best medieval smithy as they cannot work steel fine enough. (You can compare some other posts on the topic: Can medieval people make a potato gun? or Why no firearms? or Anachronistic things built with medieval technology)

Additionally, lack of actual knowledge of how the modern day things work or are created would prohibit your average medieval guy who has seen them exist and being used from actually reproducing them in a functioning way. Probably not even your average modern day person would be able rebuild most things having only medieval technology at hand, but they have years of experience and schooling which systematically taught them about science and technology behind them, your medieval people have no such base of knowledge.

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  • $\begingroup$ You probably could make a crude but workable gun in a medieval workshop. What you couldn't do is make ammunition for it. Likewise for many things: you could import battery-powered devices, for instance, but then you become dependent on the battery supplier. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 4 '18 at 19:23
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  • What does it cost to interact with our world, and who can do it? Say it takes a genuine wizard to open the interplanar portal, and it will deplete the spellcasting ability of the wizard (some kind of "mana point" game mechanic). The wizard might open the interplanar portal to get aspirins and toilet tissue for himself, and perhaps for the king if the king asks pointed questions, but not for the general population.
  • How can they act in our world, and will we learn about it? Say the interplanar portal cannot be opened just anywhere, or perhaps that it is permanently open and cannot be moved. Smart visitors might realize that some three-letter agency from our world would built a top-secret base on the site if they knew, and put any new arrival into quarantine/interrogation. So they can't just sell magical love potions from an alchemist's store to raise money, the FDA would wonder. And they can't sell too much gold from the dragon's hoard, the DHS could suspect them of money laundering. So the visitors are mostly pennyless, and can't buy technology over here. Perhaps the travelers will bring "really neat" cold weather clothing for rangers from a charity, and the plastic dishes and spoons from the soup kitchen are amazingly lightweight, but society as a whole won't change.
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Look at this in reverse.

Why WOULD they use it?

Why do WE use it?

The assumption is that they are like us, created in our image.

We use technology because that is what we do. We have evolved evolutionarily (if that is a word) to be technology users. In fact, we are so ingrained in this orientation that we take it for granted that ANY extremely sentient being would have as its main focus, the development and use of technology.

But this is just our bias.

An extremely sentient being could, alternatively, be interested in music, dance, writing, and other creative expression.

They might consider culinary development the highest form of achievement. They would look at our society and consider US the barbarian society, with a total lack of culture. A land full of toys, uncouth and trivially childish. What is the usefulness of an iPhone if you can not eat it? What is the purpose of a computer if you can not physically turn it into a sculpture? All of these are mere distractions from what is REALLY important. Aesthetic perfection. This would probably be a very physical, 'earthly' society that would abhor virtual reality.

Dancing in very exquisite choreography would rank far above talking to someone siting next door on Facebook.

Singing together in a large group, perfecting and exploring harmony and tone, rhythm and melody, personally experiencing its creation, would be existentially more rewarding than listening to the performance of someone else over mass media.

Doing is far more rewarding than spectating.

They would aspire to the great, hand-written, carefully illustrated hand replicated literary tomes of the ancient monks that you can heft in your hands, feel the texture, smell the paper, than the modern, sterile, cold ebooks of today.

Being a poet would have much higher social status than being a lowly engineer.

Scientists would only be useful if they developed new paint pigments or such.

In that sense, so much of our technology would simply be utterly useless to them.

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Many lamented here the absence of the modern tools. Yes, but!

Mindset and knowledge

What we have and our historic-medieval folks did not, is the mindset of a modern world person and an accompanying knowledge. Arguably, there is no way to throw a modern society further back than to Renaissance tech-wise. Medieval folks are before that, both in tech and in mentality.

We know much better than medieval folks how the world works and tics, applying this knowledge even in the absence of modern technology is much, much easier than to invent it from scratch.

Here were mentioned already such things as threads and pencils and paper. If the modern-society group is large enough, following options might also work:

  • Building a primitive steam engine.
  • Reaching out to electricity.
  • Building a glider plane.
  • "Inventing" or using at a much larger scale the black powder.
  • "Inventing" modern explosives.
  • Compromise between the knowledge of modern firearm design and available technology.
  • Building better roads.
  • Building better ships.
  • Using primitive optics.
  • Signaling and coding (Morse ist just a begininng!)
  • More general: information retrieval and processing.

To highlight the ship example: If we manage a steam engine: wonderful, welcome to the 18th century. If not: we still know much more about hydrodynamics for ship shape, aerodynamics for sail form and configuration, general engineering for better masts and what not.

For coding: Even a quite simple Vigenere chiffre was unbreakable for 300 years. This alone will turn over the world. Imagine a group than has a monopole on the secure communications...

Well, in fantasy the medieval folks might compensate all that with magic. But historic medieval people? No chance.

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  1. Because almost anything we can do with technology, they can do with magic. Why create a cell phone when you have a hand-held magic mirror which allows you to contact anyone with another magic mirror ... even a demon or djinn who can answer questions for you (who needs Google)
  2. Because it is against one or more of their religions or forbidden by a God/ruler/overlord.
  3. Because they are more in tune with nature and see the devastating effects producing our advanced technology has created in our environments ... so they fear creating advanced technology would eventually destroy their planet.
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  • $\begingroup$ for three do you mean they use us as an example of what not to do? $\endgroup$ – Ajnatorix Zersolar Feb 5 '18 at 7:50
  • $\begingroup$ Yes @ajnatorixzersolar that is what I meant ... clarified a little. $\endgroup$ – J.J. Hartly Feb 5 '18 at 10:44

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