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A long-running concept I have for my fantasy continent of Diggoran is its isolated and unequalized technological and industrial progress.

By ''isolated progress'' I refer to the fact that Diggoran's technological and industrial progress barely extends to the rest of the world which is largely pre-Industrial. Diggoran itself has unequalized technological progress meaning that some countries are in the 2040s while others are in the 1980s and even 1800's to 1700s.

My question is how could I possibly justify this wild lack of industrial equality between the nations of Diggoran? Especially when the nations of Diggoran are all part of an EU-like union and more than open to civilized trade and political relations.

This EU-like union is known as ''The Empire,'' and it has existed for over 2,000 years. One suggestion I received a long time ago was simply making the Empire weak and barely functional, ruling over the continent only in name kinda like various periods of feudal Japan. The problem with this is that ''The Empire'' is supposed to be portrayed as a great union of peace, harmony, and progress before it collapses thus depleting the continent of stability. The Empire could potentially be a strictly militaristic force, keeping historically incompetent nations stable in its wake while providing little more aid, but I think this idea may have several flaws unless someone can prove the idea as functional.

I know the real world has diverse technological progress, but as far as I am aware, there isn't a nation on Earth that is completely lacking in industrial development or electricity and yet retains global prominence or political stability. Sure there may be tribal and rural regions with lower levels of development than the epic-centers of their national civilization, but surely these count as exceptions, right? Most countries have features like that. I think Diggoran is a bit more extreme.

I think Africa is a good example of technological inequality, but specific historical events made Africa what it is today. Diggoran's history is not similar to Africa; it is a self-sufficient and self-sustaining Continent which has never been invaded by a foreign superpower. It has done all the invading despite its geography invoking little to no need for resource motivated imperialism.

Should I make the difficult decision of getting rid of the Empire or at the very least making all the nations technologically equal to some relative level?

Any Ideas?

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    $\begingroup$ Have you seen the modern world, technological capabilities vary wildly, your biggest issue will be bleed, Cellphones are incredibly common even in countries that we would describe as having technology closer to the 1800's The portability or modular nature of some technologies make them easy to export. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 16 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ I’ve upvoted direct answers, but I have to point out that you may need to reconsider some of your cherished ideas instead of trying to fulfill them all. There’s a famous quote by a movie writer about “killing your babies” which refers to the idea that for the good of the story you sometimes need to cut out one of your favorite ideas. I think you need to drop one of your requirements: maybe there isn’t an Empire, maybe it’s a truce between empires; maybe there is much less technological difference; etc. $\endgroup$ – Wayne Jan 16 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ Well, if the Earth is any guide, the difference in technology between regions is fundamentally due to agriculture. Take a look at "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond, which examines exactly the question you have posed, as applied to the history of our own world. $\endgroup$ – Robert Dodier Jan 16 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ "Epic-center" is an interesting eggcorn, but that doesn't make it correct. The word you want is "epicenter". $\endgroup$ – Martha Jan 16 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ What about government corruption? This is one of the main reasons in the real world for vast discrepancies in nations existing on the same continent. For example, Myanmar and Thailand exist right next door to each other, yet because of government corruption in Myanmar, that nation is way behind Thailand in many ways. So corruption isn't the only cause for vast discrepancies, but it is one cause. $\endgroup$ – camainc Jan 17 at 16:35

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A couple ideas.

When powerful nations join unions like that they do so for their own benefit and will generally include clauses that are meant to keep their advantages. So perhaps the the price of joining this union for the less advanced nations was that they would not progress enough to challenge the advanced nations.

Not quite sure what setting this world is in, but perhaps the only power source isn't portable. Giant magic crystal, alien reactor, crazy lightning field or whatever. It can power the 2040 folks but starts to fall off by the time it is transmitted to the 1980s folks and there's nothing left by the time it gets to the 1700s areas.

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity. It's probably BS in the real world, but perhaps in yours the people in the 1700s areas have it as a genetic trait and simply being around electronic devices is painful. The people in the 1980s area have it to a lesser degree and maybe only feel pain around things like wifi signals and whatnot.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've never heard of Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity. I may experiment with that. Thank you! $\endgroup$ – Hiccaries Jan 18 at 3:59
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    $\begingroup$ No, that is a thing. It can be caused by incompetent AC wiring. AC throws a lot of EMFs, and we compensate for that by assuring currents are equal and opposite in all cables and conduits. (Easily accomplished with a "tree topology" wiring protocol.) this causes EMFs to cancel each other out. If some dolt sends current in a circle, though... voilà, you are now inside the core of a transformer. This is not mystical; it causes vibration and eddy current heating, and there are NEC rules specifically to deal with that. $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 18 at 17:53
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Religion would factor in heavily, Take the Amish for example their technological development came to a complete stop due to them choosing not to progress because of their faith.

And look at how technology was stunted in times/areas where religion became more important then science. But even without religion culture can have a heavy influence on the technological development. A culture that for example does not allow women to study will always be lacking manpower on the development front.

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    $\begingroup$ Beat me by three minutes! :-) $\endgroup$ – Klaus Æ. Mogensen Jan 16 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ As @KlausÆ.Mogensen says in their own answer, that's because they are a minority living in a highly developed country. They can't be conquered, enslaved or erradicated without tackling with the USA first. Put an amish country anywhere but in Mongolia in 1800 and it will be gone before 1850. Underdevelopment against more powerful enemies only works if you have no enemies, which only happens if you don't have anything they could desire. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jan 16 at 9:41
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    $\begingroup$ I would argue that "ideology" would be a more general answer. Religion is the most common example, but political ideology is just as potent. $\endgroup$ – Dancrumb Jan 16 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ "Stunted" sounds a bit judgmental. Eg, Mennonites have been known to weigh technology and adopt it partially, considering the effects on their society. "We see value in telephones for trade and emergencies, but we don't want distant people to feel more immediate than our kids, or to interrupt our time together. So we'll have a phone booth in the village square." That's not "anti-science" so much as against the culture change that may come with a technology. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Long Jan 16 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ @A.bakker History is complicated. The same religions have at times impeded science and at times propelled it forward. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Long Jan 16 at 21:04
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You don't need to explain it, because that's already happened in Europe not too long ago.

While the european nations were running toward WW2, building the Stukas, the V2 and all similar feats, in the south of the continent there were regions still living in conditions similar to stone age: a single room carved in the rock, where parents and 10 kids lived together with sheeps, donkeys and chickens, dumping their waste in the path outside the door. This is how the life was in Matera, Italy, until they forced the population out in the Fifties.

The Sassi originated in a prehistoric troglodyte settlement, and these dwellings are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy. The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia. Many of them are really little more than small caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi a street lies on top of another group of dwellings. The ancient town grew up on one slope of the rocky ravine created by a river that is now a small stream, and this ravine is known locally as "la Gravina". In the 1950s, as part of a policy to clear the extreme poverty of the Sassi, the government of Italy used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to new public housing in the developing modern city.

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  • $\begingroup$ Parts of every country are less developed than the epic-centers of their society. Pretty much every country in modern Europe is home to poor villages along with China, India, Russia and so many others. $\endgroup$ – Hiccaries Jan 16 at 4:46
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    $\begingroup$ I think Africa is the best example with pre stone age tribes and (ex)one of nuclear nations (RSA). $\endgroup$ – ksbes Jan 16 at 6:56
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    $\begingroup$ As your own quote says, it was extreme poverty which drove people to live in those caves. They are far more comfortable than the average hut made with garbage that you can build yourself in a shanty town. That doesn't mean that the whole of Italy was centuries back to other european powers. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jan 16 at 9:35
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A modern example of very unequal technological development is the Amish people in North America. They belong to the religious order similar to Mennonites and disdain modern technology, choosing to live without electricity or engines. This culture, which numbers about 342,000 people distributed across the US and Canada, with the largest group of almost 80,000 in Pennsylvania. It survives because their host countries accept amd protect them. A similar example is the Samí people of northernmost Europe. Diggoran might have one or more similar cultures that choose to life at a low tech level, protected by the Empire.

In addition to this, there might be outlying regions where high technology simply hasn't reached, similar to how Kazakhstan hosts both the spaceport Baikonur and nomadic sheep breeders living in yurts. Such regions could be isolated behind tall mountain ranges or simply hold no resources that have made it worthwhile developing them.

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The world today (and 200 years ago, and 2000 years ago) had extremely un-equal progress between various nations/tribes and continents. The excellent book "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies" by Diamond is basically an exploration of how inequality developed due to the worldbuilding setting of the real Planet Earth.

To hyper-summarize,

  1. Hunter-gatherers become agrarian farmers when evolution and climate provide healthy grains and vegetables suitable for domestication. This primarily happens in temperate zones, and evolution has more area to generate more species on landmasses with long East-West latitudes (like the entirety of Eurasia).

  2. Agrarian farmers become city-dwellers when they domesticate animals that can be used for food and transport. Only a few animals qualify (they must be large, herbivorous, docile, breedable, social).

  3. Cities with food surpluses that allow some members of society to specialize and increase technology and trade. This includes mining and a large tech tree needed to develop efficient metallurgy and highly-effective weapons.

  4. Dense cities (with enough people going in and out, living close to animals, and in unsanitary conditions) breed plagues and disease to which locals become resistant.

  5. Geography that favors some limited balkanization (mountains, coastlines) will result in smaller nations that will, through competition, develop better policies than geography that favors stagnant empires.

  6. When populations with more effective farming, higher technology, and harsher plagues compete with populations that lack these advantages, the victims adapt or die.

At some point, though, transport and military technology will lead to exploration. You need to come up with some reason why your 2040s society isn't colonizing or trading their tech with the 1700s societies.

You've got a few caveats:

Diggoran itself has unequalized technological progress meaning that some countries are in the 2040s while others are in the 1980s and even 1800's to 1700s....Especially when the nations of Diggoran are all part of an EU like Union and more than open to civilized trade and political relations.

Not to mention the pre-industrial civilizations across the ocean. Why hasn't that trade equalized these countries? Are they newly aware of each other and still in transition?

This EU like union is known as ''The Empire'' and it has existed for over 2,000 years.

Nope, they're not in transition, at least on human timescales.

If there is trade and tech disparity as we understand the terms between inequal nations for a long time, the two cultures will eventually homogenize.

Something has to give. Is there a Star Trek "Prime Directive" that prohibits a 2040s farmer from setting up a farm in the 1700s country with his modern tech? In that case, who enforces the directive - you don't have a continent, you have an ant colony. Are there impassable mountains cutting the continent into isolated regions with isolated climates and species, and only infrequent and expensive messages can be sent back and forth? In that case, you don't have an empire on a continent, you have separate nations that happen to talk occasionally. Does one area have geography good for farming, but no metals to mine, and another the inverse? In that case, you have idiot merchants who don't know how to trade.

Look at Guns, Germs, and Steel for ways that inequalities between nations to arise, but be aware that the natural outcome is for those inequalities to be broken down.

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    $\begingroup$ "Guns, Germs and Steel" discusses the Japanese government blocking the import of firearms in case these led to a peasant uprising. You could have something similar where the unrepresentative governments of less-developed nations will accept e.g. food/medicine imports, but they won't accept several technologies. Armaments (the Samurai even refused guns for themselves due to their traditions!). The printing press. Anything granting Internet access. Most books (and don't forget the language barrier!) Basically, they don't want to empower the bulk of their population and risk overthrow. $\endgroup$ – Astrid_Redfern Jan 18 at 21:16
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There's some sort of magic at work.

This isn't tagged science-based or anything like it, so blaming unequal tech development on magic is within the scope of the question.

As for how it does so, there's a number of possibilities. Perhaps some of the societies might utilize magic to replace or augment technology, like the Iron Kingdoms of the tabletop wargame Warmachine/Hordes. Perhaps higher technology was present in the past, but it's been lost in many places; this might be because of something like a nuclear war, where much of society was destroyed, or it might have happened because the laws of physics that allow high technology to work have broken down in much of the world, like in the RPG Godbound. Maybe reality is shaped by the dominant paradigm of the people living in an area, like the RPG Mage: the Awakening, and there are reality zones where high technology doesn't function and zones where magic doesn't function.

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Environment

The environment in the developed nations have historically been hostile, while the less developed nations have had preferable climate and land.

The hostile environment have pushed for technological advances in order to mitigate the dangers of the environment, as well as being needed for comfortable living. If there have been little fertile land it has pushed for maximizing the yield from the limited land. If the cold kill people during winter it has pushed for insulated homes and better clothing. If a lot of people got sick, it would have pushed for better medicine. Constant fighting over resources would push for better weapons and military.

On the contrary, the less developed nations have had few issues. The climate have been temperate with a lot of fertile land, and there were few diseases and wars, they would have had little incentive to improve and develop new technology. They could have been prosperous simply from farming and valuable metals without practical use.

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Changes in climate could then change the dynamic, making the previously welcoming environment more hostile, and the previously hostile environments more or less hostile.

The collapse of the empire can come as a result of the new dynamic as a result of change in environment. People are often happy within the status-quo, which now changed.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually when you compare europe with Africa it's the other way around. Europe has a mild stable climate which lets large cities develop surrounded by agriculture to feed them while africa is in a constant state of flux requiring tribes to move around constantly. $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Jan 16 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Ratchetfreak Soo... a hostile climate in Africa, and a temperate climate in Europe...? $\endgroup$ – Spoki0 - Reinstate Monica Jan 19 at 19:44
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Trade secrets.

The advanced nation has laws against sharing advanced technology, and its inhabitants are generally convinced that all the other nations are inhabited by lazy, stupid people who couldn't possibly build steam engines. If the advanced nation has some kind of feudal guild system, having the guilds keep trade secrets is a fairly natural scenario.

The idea that people should share advances in science is a relatively new one in history; for example, in the 16th century Tartaglia kept his discovery of the formula for the roots of a cubic equation secret, and it wasn't made public until a rival of his, Cardano, who had learned it somehow, published it. See this webpage.

Probably, the other nations are slowly catching up by stealing the trade secrets. However, the advanced nation is keeping ahead by leaning on their governments to discourage technology. Furthermore, the advanced nation is also making further technological advances.

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  • $\begingroup$ Trade secrets only work when there's a government enforcing it. When the other side is outside your nation and realizes that this is something that gives a competitive advantage... well, just look at how long it took the world to go from one nation that knows how to build an atomic bomb to two. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jan 17 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler: Look at how long it took other nations to discover the secret of Greek fire from the 7th century (hint: they never did; they kept it secret for over 300 years, and at some point—maybe well after that—the formula was lost; historians of science are still unsure of the formula today, although napalm works just as well.) $\endgroup$ – Peter Shor Jan 17 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ Good heavens, the Shor of Shor's Algorithm posts on here! And as another example of the sort of thing he's talking about, consider Damascus steel (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damascus_steel) $\endgroup$ – Astrid_Redfern Jan 18 at 21:19
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The Prime Directive

Perhaps The Empire has something akin to Star Trek's Prime Directive, and prohibits one nation from interfering with the development of others. Something like this would almost have to be enforced, because otherwise those high tech nations would be spreading out in search of resources, trade opportunities, or simply out of curiosity, and spreading their technology with them.

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    $\begingroup$ I never considered using a ''Prime Directive'' like situation. That might work. $\endgroup$ – Hiccaries Jan 16 at 21:51
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Commerce

In fact, a nation sitting in commerce routes are know to have unequaled level of civilization development.

With great commerce then is possible do private (and public) mecenas to finance artistic and technological innovations.

To make the nation somewhat isolated, natural barriers or small territories "nation city" will do. In your case, a continent nation is isolated by water, and can be a convenient position between various ocean routes.

It's not a coincidence what major cities are in major routes and have big ports.

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I'm going to throw out two wild ideas. They may not fit your world.

  1. Localized tech boom. One or more of your nations could have come in contact with something that allowed their technology to advance rapidly. This could be an alien civilization, ancient technological writings from a previous civilization, etc. This allowed rapid advancement some nations. The source of the tech boom could be a guarded state secret. Eventually, the tech level will even out. It's inevitable. But if everyone was at 1800s level tech until a relatively recent discovery/contact, then there could be a period of incredibly unequal tech levels.

  2. Resource availability. Indistrialized nations require resources to function and continue advancing. Think coal, oil, copper, uranium, etc. If those things were unequally distributed and the nations that had them did not trade them for strategic purposes, you could end up with a big tech disparity.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, the world of Diggoran is set nearly 3,000 years after an apocalyptic event similar to the movie ''Oblivion''. Technology before that time was early 1800s to 1700s. The Continent of Diggoran also displays resource self-sufficiency and self-sustainability hence why resource wars are very uncommon. $\endgroup$ – Hiccaries Jan 16 at 21:48
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Lack of conflict

For whatever reason, the advanced 2040 group doesn't feel the need to take anything from the 17-1800s groups. Not their land, not their resources, not their people.

The more primitive groups don't feel the need to catch up (readily available resources make it unnecessary, no conflict means no need for better weapons/defenses).

Why?

Reasons

  • Something relatively artificial like ideology/religion (prime directive, venerate the honorable primitives, whatever). This usually feels like something slapped over a plot hole rather than something which evolved naturally. Given that we're reverse-engineering a world here, I guess everything falls into that category. Meh.
  • Fear: We think those primitives could do something terrible if they wanted to. Plague, Kaiju (giant monster), divine wrath, whatever.
  • Surprise
  • A nigh-fanatic devotion to the pope
  • Free exchange of population: It's all really the same society, but different people have different preferences. See "Amish". All the chillax types end up in primitive-ville, while the brilliant/driven people end up in tomorrowland. Because people can move freely between them, any conflict between them would basically be a civil war, and therefore terrible and worth avoiding extra hard.
  • Uninhabitable. Natives of tomorrow land can't survive in primitive-ville (and visa versa?). There's something in the air, water, or soil that prevents tomorrowland-ians from surviving unprotected for any length of time in primitiveville. Maybe too much of this gas, not enough of that, something tomorrowlandians are horribly allergic to, or is strait up toxic.

Now why does 1980 survive alongside 2040? Same tech level with vastly different available resources? Maybe BigHairington (1980sville) is more warlike and has a much larger population than Tomorrowland. Mutually assured destruction worked out in the real world, at least so far. BigHairington still has WMDs and bioweapons, and would be more inclined to use them because they'd have to.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is actually a great idea. As I previously mentioned, Diggoran is a self-sustaining and self-sufficient continent so any wars fought across Diggoran aren't going to be resource-based which appear to be the most common reason for War. I will consider this, Thank you! $\endgroup$ – Hiccaries Jan 16 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Hiccaries "Great idea". No upvote, no accept. ?! You haven't accepted a single one of the answers from your 7 most resent questions (I just checked). That's just bad manners. May I suggest you go back over all your old questions and accept and upvote your heart out. To accept an answer, you must click on that hollow checkmark bellow the "up number down". To upvote, you click on the aforementioned up arrow. You don't have to accept anything if none of the answers hit the nail on the head for you, but surely some of them will have. $\endgroup$ – Mark Storer Jan 17 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ If you think I'm just whoring for reputation (stack exchange score), then don't upvote or accept me, but please go back and do so for those who have taken the time to answer your question in a useful, thoughtful way. They've earned it. $\endgroup$ – Mark Storer Jan 17 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ ah shit, sorry. I'm still kinda new to Stackexchange and I wasn't aware that scores were so important. My sincere apologies to you and everyone else. $\endgroup$ – Hiccaries Jan 18 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ No worries. Live and learn... all that jazz. $\endgroup$ – Mark Storer Jan 19 at 5:12
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Sufficiently Advanced

The Technological society spent a very long time being insular before striding onto the world scene. They've had industrial revolutions, digital revolutions and are now well into the nano-tech scale technologies we have today and more!

They are simply so far ahead that other societies have no chance whatsoever of catching up.

If you took a laptop computer back in time 100 years, the very best scientific minds of the time would maybe be able to discern some few elements of its operation using the finest tools available. They don't have electron microscopes to see the activities of a modern microchip. It's functionally a tiny black box that "does stuff" Literally black-box technology.

That's to say nothing of the more esoteric aspects of our modern industrial society. Frankly, taken without its infrastructure, most elements of modern society will simply not be applicable to a society with 18th or 19th century technology.

They do not have the tools to make the tools to understand the operating principles (let alone actually produce) the futuristic marvels of your Future-tech society.

Said society has no interest in teaching the foreign savages, nor in sharing more than the odd tidbit or gifts of technological toys (like gifting Rayguns for the royalty of a friendly nation) They also stamp down hard on anyone attempting to reverse-engineer their technology, they take their patents and intellectual property seriously!
On the other hand, they've also undergone an enlightenment of sorts and have little interest in taking over the less advanced nations by force.

So they hold everyone at arms length, enforce the peace where necessary and generally act aloof and superior.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could I perhaps isolate the most advanced technology to relatively sparse parts of the continent? Let's say you have a city like Los Angeles but outside of that city you have undeveloped but clean and happy villages? $\endgroup$ – Hiccaries Jan 16 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ I'd look to the myths of how Atlantis supposedly interacted with its neighbours. $\endgroup$ – Ruadhan Jan 17 at 9:17
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It is natural for the world to have continents with different levels of technology, for continents to have countries with different levels of technology, and for countries to have regions with different levels of technology, and for regions to have sub regions with different levels of technology.

the world has been that way for thousands of years.

At the present time all the formerly separate civilizations have merged into one world civilization. In even the most backward regions people with enough money can acquire the most advanced technology from the most advanced regions.

But in an advanced nation like the USA there are probably many poor urban and rural neighborhoods where access to the internet, for example, is much more restricted than in rich or middle class neighborhoods.

There are still a few uncontacted stone age hunter gatherer groups in remote areas in the year 2020.

There are some religious groups who for various reasons renounce or restrict the use of many advanced modern technologies. So communities of those religious groups are less technologically advanced than their neighbors.

Many countries at the present time are rapidly developing, but still have large proportions of their populations living as peasants in villages with little interaction with the technologically advanced parts of their countries.

So if there is some sort of Empire or Federation ruling your fictional continent, spreading advanced technology should not be an important function of it. Otherwise it might have spread advanced technology too much and too well for there to be the large differences you want for your story.

Thus one might suppose that the main or only purpose of your Empire or Continental Union or United Nations might be to maintain peace among the various nations, countries, kingdoms, republics, city states, fiefs, principalities, tribal governments, provinces, cantons, etc., etc., etc. that compose it. So its main function might be prevent wars, civil wars, and other forms of mass violence. If two groups start fighting, the central government might invade and attack both groups until they give up and make peace.

The central government might restrict the access of the subordinate governments to advanced military technology, so that it could easily defeat any government that defies it. But on the other hand the central government might not have a strong enough military to take over direct control of all the subordinate governments and fight all the guerrillas who might rise up in rebellion, so it might leave them with almost total control of their internal affairs.

And some of those subordinate governments might want to develop their territories and become as advanced as they can, except in military technology, while other of those subordinate governments might want to avoid developing and industrializing, and other subordinate governments might not have enough control to start large programs for development, industrialization, or acquiring advanced technology.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's a good idea. The Empire itself could work, functioning as a continent-wide peacekeeping force. $\endgroup$ – Hiccaries Jan 16 at 21:46
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Most artificial barriers to progress are overcome sooner or later. State secrets leak, trade secrets are sold, new technologies are interesting.

The primary channel of exchange between nations has always been trade. This is how Marco Polo went to China. That is how Arab nations knew of northern European tribes in the 10th century.

What stops trade are natural barriers, to some extent, cultural barriers to a very low extent, religious barriers to a low extent - somehow, merchants tend to overcome all of them if there is a deal to be made.

What you will need is a combination of them to be effective over a long time. A mountain range inbetween with dangerous wild tribes and a religious taboo to enter the holy mountains or something.

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Some people don't get it.

Your backwards folks are put off by electronics - things with working parts too small to see, things where you cannot poke your head in and see what is happening. It just does not sit well with them. These folks are considered slow minded by the technologically advanced people and maybe they are. Maybe they call themselves Slows. They are not ashamed.

These slow folks do have their own skills - they have intuition about soil and earth and are great with animals and plants. Their technologically backwards nation is an exporter of agricultural products. Non-slows make mistakes (sometimes systematic mistakes) with their farms that would never happen on a Slow farm. If a Slow visits such a farm, she will be surprised and if asked she might point out how things might be better, but it will be difficult for her to explain exactly how she knows or how she figured out what was going on. If you press her, she might wind up dancing and singing a song by way of explanation. Slows think differently.

As noted by @John in his comment, a problem will be bleed - tech creeping in with tech minded persons. You could make the Slows a different species - maybe a nonhuman or maybe something like a Neanderthal. Crossbreeds with Sapiens are possible but often infertile. Slow societies can be difficult for non-slows to live in, for reasons that you could explore in your story if you are inclined.


Here is a short story of my own featuring a group of such people. https://www.fictionpress.com/s/3341845/6/Isis-and-Augi

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As I noted in a comment, I fear you may have one good idea too many and need to drop one to have a successful story. That said...

Let’s posit that the technological differential — imposed by the originally strong Empire — is what caused the break up. In particular, the technological specialization imposed by the Empire created/strengthened the nations, which eventually spiraled out of control as different nations asserted their different powers and shattered the Empire.

For example, one area of the continent may have had much more fertile conditions. The core of the Empire might’ve originally been traders who controlled the food trade, turning the fertile area into the bread basket of the continent. The fertile area came to view themselves as The Farmers and eventually coalesced into a prosperous nation.

In like manner, a more volcanic area — which had the appropriate deposits and volcanic heat — was the first to make advances in metallurgy. The Empire used The Farmers food to gain exclusive access to the Miners early metals, which the Empire used as weapons and also provided metal plows to the Farmers — but not weapons. Any Farmer foolish enough to try to modify or repair a metal plow might... disappear.

Through ruthless control, assassinations, and other mostly shadow-craft the Empire made sure that no one cut out the middle man (themselves), retaining their power over the emerging nations.

It’s entirely possible that the Empire might stunt the Miners to keep them in the Iron Age. Meanwhile the Empire might establish an advanced metallurgy project in a remote area near the appropriate deposits, and using knowledge of intensive heating methods from yet another area. This eventually becomes a fiefdom, then a nation, all under the Empires ultimate control.

The Miner technology is now old-school, but still quite usable for trade among the Empire’s less-advanced nations (who are not allowed to have anything more advanced than iron) or off-continent. The core Empire, of course, always has the most advanced technology, and works hard to keep others at lower tech levels, to the extent it can.

But eventually there were too many centers of power who thought they had leverage over the empire and when the Farmers decided to withhold food things spiraled out of control as a flurry of expansion and partnerships — often fleeting and illusory — sprang up.

(I’m imagining a galactic-level empire trope scaled down to a continent.)

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Non-interference in local affairs allows member states of the Empire to pursue poor economic policies that lead to stagnation.

You wrote:

Diggoran itself has unequalized technological progress meaning that some countries are in the 2040s while others are in the 1980s and even 1800's to 1700s.

"Technological progress gaps" spanning 60 years are not that unprecedented in history, especially considering that the rate of certain kinds of technological advancement might be slowing just because humanity has picked away a lot of low-hanging fruit in the last century. Even though we don't know what 2040 will look like, a time traveler from 1980 would probably be able to understand it.

20th century examples of such gaps can be seen anywhere there was Second World central-planning style communism in place right next to First World liberal democracy. The most dramatic example might be East and West Berlin, where several neighborhoods destroyed by battle were left completely untouched 40 years since the end of World War II because nobody Eastern side thought they were worth rebuilding. Similar examples might also be Taiwan and China (at least until 1980, when China began implementing market reforms) or North and South Korea.

Having some member states in your empire pursuing really bad economic policies that cause stagnation while others are not might be difficult to make sense if your Empire is like the EU, which is a project that is intended to integrate economies and other similar political entities together.

The solution to that might be to simply not have your empire be about that, but about something else where they don't get involved in that sort of thing, for whatever reason. Maybe they just don't want to because messing around with that because the resulting disputes would cause the empire to fall apart, and they need the empire to stick together because there are jerks on the other continent who would try to invade or mess around with the member states if there was no empire. The external threat might smooth over any differences in values between members that might otherwise lead to conflict. Or maybe the conflicts between members aren't seen as being worth fighting over. 20th century communism was problematic because it was often coupled with aggressive and expansionist foreign policies, e.g. Soviets invading Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan and threatening to invade much of Europe, North Korea actually did invade South Korea, etc. It's not immediately obvious that as many people would care about the bad policies of these countries if there wasn't the constant threat of war present for decades.

The obvious candidate for "something else" is mutual defense. Less obvious but still plausible candidates might be some aspect of culture or religion that is shared between all of the member states that isn't directly related to economics or individual freedom.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is another good idea. I've considered that the Empire could be more of a peacekeeping based union than an economic union as that would make sense from an economic standpoint. Also, would Diggoran's resource self-sufficiency and self-sustainability decrease the need for urgent technological and industrial development? $\endgroup$ – Hiccaries Jan 16 at 21:43
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Imbalance in Technical Education

High technology can only be maintained if the people maintaining it have an adequate education level in STEM. The less-technical parts of The Empire can barely cope with making crude knockoffs of the tech made in the high-tech centers. The people in the low-tech areas who have enough money can buy technical items from the high-tech areas, but without competent maintenance personnel, they fall into disrepair. After a while, this becomes a mindset: It's just not worth it to give up the tried-and-true low-tech methods that our people have followed for generations, in exchange for toys that only work for a short time before they become worthless.

The few people in the low-tech areas who do get good enough STEM education have a tendency to move to the high-tech areas, where they can be far better paid than if they stay home.

One might ask why the imbalance in technical education exists. There are plenty of reasons that could happen. One is a social stigma against pursuing certain kinds of knowledge. Another is political. Anyone familiar with Lysenkoism knows how certain kinds of knowledge can be declared politically incorrect and therefore not pursued. Any time science reveals a truth that the powerful find inconvenient, they may act to suppress it. The high-tech areas have a strong tradition of free inquiry in science/technology research, and governments that don't try to dictate truth.

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Choice
The world advanced to the point that some people/countries decided for themselves to live in the 'better times' where that is whatever they defined. Want to live in technological wonder? Tomorrowland. Back in the 1800's? Frontierland.
That gives you more possibilities for stories, up to and including when the people who don't know (their own history) anymore find a way down in to the (now fully automated) tunnels below the lands.

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Natural EMP

Most modern technology - transportation, communication, computers, factories, etc. - is based on electricity. Electric components, unless well shielded, are subject to destruction by an EMP - electromagnetic pulse. While EMPs are known to be caused by solar storms and nuclear explosions, there is some sort of anomaly in your planet which generates frequent EMPs in a limited geographic area. The land is fertile and has other natural resources, so it was populated similar to the rest of the planet prior to the advent of modern technology. But drive a car to the area and it stops working. Fly over it with a plane and you crash (well, hopefully glide to a landing). Bring in a cell phone and it's fried. Nobody has been able to figure out the cause. The people are the same - just as intelligent - and can use modern technology when they go to other areas, but they have to get there by horse & buggy. Since they have productive farms and mines, they participate in commerce. The kids grow up and go to university in the big city and don't want to go back. But plenty of others decide they want a slower lifestyle so there is a reasonable balance and the population is stable.

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  • $\begingroup$ How would that natural EMP function? Where would it come from? $\endgroup$ – Hiccaries Jan 19 at 5:12
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure. But my first thought was something related to planetary magnetic core + plate tectonics + volcanic activity $\endgroup$ – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Jan 19 at 5:21
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Mutual Agreement

Lots of answers here, but one I haven't seen mentioned yet is the notion of two (or more) groups deciding to mutually avoid technological and cultural exchange. This doesn't have to be some externally enforced directive. It is perfectly reasonable that two societies, especially if they have massively different cultures, might want to limit their interactions to avoid social upheaval.

If you want to see a great example of this, check out the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh. It involves a small population of starfaring human colonists stranded on a world of humanoids with a tech level similar to early 20th western nations. The influx of new tech and ideas from the humans end up destabilizing the local society and triggering a civil war. To avoid further bloodshed, both sides sign a treaty that limits contact between the humans and locals to give both groups time to adjust.

It sounds like your setting is a bit different, but with a couple of key conditions you could make it work.

  • Initial Isolation. There has to be something that keeps your different groups separated long enough for naturally occurring variations to grow into a significant gap.
  • Population and Resource Differences. The lower tech population needs some factor that prevents their neighbors from just sweeping in and obliterating them. The best way to do that is to give them a sizeable advantage in population and natural resources. Sure the high tech society could win in the end, but the cost is going to be astronomical.
  • Enforcement. Similar to the first point, but you need to be able to enforce the treaty. It's not going to work if people can just mingle at will. You need ways of restricting travel and communication and both sides need to be committed to enforcing those limitations.
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Lance2017 brought up electromagnetic hypersensitivity. It's obviously BS--but lets look a bit farther...

Lets add something like a mosquito. It carries a dangerous disease but it's normal target is wildlife, it rarely bites humans. Unlike a mosquito it's bites go basically unnoticed. However, this critter is highly attracted to electric fields. You can get away with short term use of battery-powered devices without much risk, but once you start playing with generators and the like the bugs come swarming--and while humans are not their preferred prey they'll go after them if nothing else is around.

Electrify, get bit, die. Those areas aren't going to electrify.

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Isolationism

Throughout history, there have been a lot of cases where countries...simply don't want to interact with any of their neighbors. You have cases like China prior to the Opium Wars, who barely interacted with the rest of the world beyond their immediate neighbors (Korea, Vietnam, the various steppe peoples) because virtually everything a civilization would need was within a short distance of them (the biggest attempt I remember hearing of China trying to secure more resources is when they sent expeditions to Bactria in search of better horses and south into Vietnam and what is today South China in search of spices and bananas. As a result despite the fact that China had paper and gunpowder it took several centuries before it really spread around. You also have cases like Japan, where the country intentionally isolated itself because the ruling powers didn't want things like firearms in the hands of the peasants, which led to the rest of the world bypassing them in terms of technology and Japan's eventual frantic catch-up in the Meiji Restoration when they realized they couldn't afford to stay isolated anymore.

The obvious example of isolation in a fantasy setting you don't really get in would be your typical "isolated advanced elf village" people. Got enough of a headstart with technology they decided the rest of the world didn't interest them and turned isolationist. Don't really have to be imperialistic and use their technological advantage to conquer the continent because they are lucky enough to have all the resources they need within their territory.

There's also the question as to whether you are talking about if The Empire is technologically unequal or The Empire is more or less advanced relative to its neighbors. Technological inequality within a country happens all the time. Typically the urbanized areas will have the most advanced technology whereas extremely remote areas will have little, at most the technology that does get there will be things that directly improve quality of life like vehicles, firearms, or medicine. Cheap, modern connections to the outside world to bring new technology in may be too cost-inefficient for the central or local government to produce (see: Alaska and northern Canada). There are lots of examples of this even today. The best example I can think of is Brazil, on the one hand you have cities with modern technology like Rio de Janeiro. On the other hand you have groups of people in western Amazonia that still haven't even been contacted by the outside world yet, or if they have haven't changed their lifestyle that much.

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