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So, the central conceit of my story is that one day in the modern times, everyone on Earth over the age of 13 starts getting superpowers. While some of them are possible to remove (but only if replaced by others), there are a few that everyone’s stuck with permanently whether society likes it or not. And unfortunately for the entire fabric of modern society, one of them is the ability to disable any and all technology just by looking at it.

If you have this power, you are able to take any point in space you can see and make it the center of a spherical energy pulse 10 feet in radius that instantly turns everything in it monochrome and inert for an hour. By inert I mean that electricity doesn't flow properly through it, chemical reactions don't take place, and it won't burn, melt, freeze, boil, sublimate, or even change temperature. This effect lasts an hour, and all living creatures (whether they be humans, other animals, or plants) are immune, and in fact anything that enters their bodies will instantly be brought back to normal. Also, while you can use it while looking through a telescope or other such method of vision augmentation, the power's effective range is still only a little further than the height planes fly at, and telescopes and the like do not change that.

To be clear: Everyone over the age of 13 has this power, and there is no way to get rid of it.

The purpose of this is to allow me to keep the rest of the superhuman powers I give people at a reasonable power level without having to deal with the question of why people would use them to fight instead of guns and tanks and such. But it also obviously has fascinating implications for worldbuilding.

Now due to this power and other simultaneous circumstances, modern infrastructure is heavily damaged in the ensuing chaos, and the new status quo should make it painfully obvious to anyone who knows what they're doing that rebuilding it as it was almost certainly won't be worth the time and money.

But that just raises the question: Once humanity rises up from the chaos and starts making serious attempts to rebuild again, how would they design their new societies to account for the fact that everyone on Earth could shut off any technology they can see with a glance?

Obviously planes would be impossible. You'd have to block out the sky itself for it to ever be safe to fly a plane again if anyone watching the sky could send it crashing down to Earth if they felt like it.

Public highways also would almost certainly be a thing of the past. Technology-dependent transportation would have to be underground, restricted to essentials only, and regulated and policed and vetted to make sure nobody could bring it to a standstill. But what would such a system actually look like?

But I think the biggest change would be to how buildings are built, powered and wired. I figure that at first the people with generators or solar panels or other off-the-grid power systems would build walls, or at least hollow frameworks to put tarps on, around their houses to defend from anonymous malicious eyes, but I have fewer ideas about how the later professionally from-the-ground-up buildings would be designed. Would public power grids even be feasible? Would personal per-building power generation become the new normal? I just don't know enough about construction and infrastructure to say for sure.

Note: the internet and long-distance communication in general would not be affected. Since I need these things to still exist to justify why there are still standardized and generally agreed upon names for each power (because otherwise it would be ridiculous and frustrating), I added a bit of alt-history sci-fi satellite tech that basically phased out most of the necessary terrestrial infrastructure for wireless technology to operate. While servers for websites would still need to be powered, servers don't need any larger infrastructure to communicate with client devices. And phones don't need anything at all to work but the satellites and another phone.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio May 10 '18 at 3:17
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I think the key statement is "all living creatures (whether they be humans, other animals, or plants) are immune".

So, instead of electricity as the main power source, you would have to use labour by human or non-human work-forces as they can reliably work in spite of all super powers. A possibility is genetic engineering to breed creatures for specific purposes like carrying large capacities over large distances on land, water or in the air - in a world with super powers of your suggestion, this does not appear to far-reaching. Sending messenges via messenger insects which are small enough to be below detection and able to hide in the mass of insect population on the planet would be a possibility.

In addition, your could create "buildings" from living trees made to grow in specific ways to create rooms, platforms etc - this is ecologically sustainable and immune to your suggested super powers by your own definition. With enough width of your trees required for rooms inside you can make them grow to dozens of meters of height and create cities out of forests.

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  • $\begingroup$ Making houses and buildings out of still-alive hollowed-out trees is starting to sound like an amazing idea. And the sheer concept of what is wilderness and what is civilization eventually becoming inverted is utterly fascinating. $\endgroup$ – Jason Clyde May 5 '18 at 18:50
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Most people are not crazed vandals. Arrest the ones that are.

Windows are wonderful pieces of technology. They let in light! You can see through them. They keep out bugs. They prevent the wind from blowing hard on your when you are driving in a car.

But humans are born with the power to break windows, by throwing rocks through them. It is so easy! How is it that we have any windows at all?

People definitely do break windows. Rebel teens, rioters, disempowered people seeking to feel empowered, theives, etc. We are each born with the power to wreak tremendous destruction on built things. Window breaking pales before the destruction arson can cause. One person can destroy a building. How do we have anything? Why are we not all just squatting naked in forests?

Usually people do not break windows or burn buildings because they are grown ups who have better things to do than randomly destroy stuff. They value living in civil society. Their own cars and houses have windows too that they do not want their neighbors to break. Also if they are caught breaking a window the police might come. Or if not the police, someone might see and notify parents. The window breaker might have to pay a fine or spend time in jail. He might lose is job.

Your society of superpowered people will function the same way regular society functions. We are each already superpowered.

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    $\begingroup$ Holding a rock in one hand I am a God. $\endgroup$ – Pink Sweetener May 5 '18 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ One could remove your agrument by making it nearly impossible to notice WHO did the tech-blocking. Then a few disenfranchised people would be enough to ruin society. Sure small, totalitarian gated communities could run, but that's it $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok Sep 17 '18 at 8:05
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A regression to steampunk tech - clockwork mechanisms for some basic things that need to keep working no matter what, and everyone has to get by with the bare technological minimum.

Blinding criminals who use it against society - if this is supposed to be a dystopian set up. Or some kind of mandatory blinkering/blinding in public places.

Or cults of voluntarily blinded people living in remote technologically advanced enclaves, contrasted with pockets of completely tech-free nirvanas.

Strategic use of mirrored glass.

Someone discovers a single chemical element that's immune to the effects of this power (under the common "convention" of equal and opposite forces in worldbuilding, and everything having a kryptonite) and a battle for control of it begins.

Everyone simply adjusts to a new world order where planes sometimes fall from the sky and buildings shut down, bombs don't always work, pacemakers stop, hospitals go dark etc. As @Molot said, just because everyone technically can do terrible things, doesn't mean we all do?

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Magic created this problem and it's (more or less) immune to tech and you won't let me kill people with runes (or tattoos ?), which is a bummer .

That leaves us with more magic to fix this mess.

So someone discovers runes that can be placed on things (buildings, packets of cornflakes, condoms, etc.). The runes protect the things from other magic (maybe up to some limit - maybe a thousand people can combine and overcome them or something like that).

Maybe you can be permanently branded with a rune that disables the other runes. Useful for criminal types.

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Once humanity recovered from the Great Anarchy caused by the new powers, the main technological civilisation went underground. It started with small power generators in caves, to provide light and heat to a few terrorized refugees. However it quickly draw more and more people attracted by the safety of those shelters. Many of the surface assets where salvaged and brought into those new troglodyte cities. Deep below the surface, a new society emerged. Using the disruption became taboo, criminals who broke this rule where swiftly and harshly punished by the judges. It was so dangerous that anyone damaging the vital services of the city (hydroponic cultures, water, electricity production...) could be dealt with on the spot by the militia.

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Just to be clear, in addition to electricity, this power also disables steampower and chemical reactions (firearms, combustion engines), correct? @alex2006 definitely has the coolest answer in terms of flavor and utility, but I feel like such a society could still have automobiles and airplanes so long as they were built with sufficient safety features for gliding/coasting to safety in the event of disablement.
It's okay to have planes that can coast to safety in the event of a terrorist attack, but this isn't going to be viable if it happens every time, so this is only going to be possible if the society is able deter this activity via some form of criminal punishment, so it is at least uncommon. If the disablement power is a sort of ray, then it might have some effect on the air between its point of origin and the target. If you had the ability to view atmospheric electric charge, there would be a void between the target and the source of the attack. Basically, this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEHy-vPYKTc

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Bio-tech is the way to go, since there is the loophole that living things are immune to this effect, but remember bio-tech doesn't have to mean low-tech. Yeah, most of us are used to thinking of bio-tech as great mammoths pulling our luggage and people running on hamster wheels, but there is a better way to do it and keep most of our modern world intact.

If you are willing to take science fiction a bit far(and let's be honest, your main conceit is already pretty far out there) we can use bio-technology much in the same way we use transistors today. People at MIT and other places like that in the real world have already been messing around with bacteria and viruses to create better batteries, and some people have been capable of recreating biologic logic gates through use of bacteria. You might suggest taking this concept another stop forward.

In the beginning it was pure chaos, and as fellow user willk suggested, the most effective way to deal with it was through use of force(and arrests). When the need for it became obvious, research money was dumped into the few available technologies that were reasonably isomorphic with the current technological paradigms, but still robust to this issue. Bio-tech was the one that stuck.

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