Al, the rat engineer from some of my previous questions, has a dirty secret: he's actually a technopath, capable of telekinetically building and controlling technology, reading blueprints off of existing devices, sensing advanced inventions in the world around him, and a whole host of other abilities. Back at the beginning of time, he abused this power a fair deal, and then ended up having to wipe the slate of technological advancement worldwide. Oops! Anyway, he's been hiding out on the edge of civilization for a long time, developing his own tech and keeping it secret from the world.

All of a sudden, enter Player 2. A sudden spike in the technological levels of the far north draws Al to a very strange new friend, with a very strange device full of very strange ideas. This repository of knowledge is absolutely amazing! As Al rummages through the nearly endless archives of this thing called the "inter-net," he finds all sorts of new technological developments that he can adapt on to increase his private technological wealth.

There's just a few things that have him questioning. For example, this Styrofoam stuff. It seems to be mostly used for safe packing of fragile items, and easily disposed dishware. Granted, that's marginally useful, but Al keeps his dishes clean; and, given that he's a bit of a loner, he doesn't need to worry so much about supply chains and distribution, so packing peanuts aren't all that important. A bunch of other materials in this archive are similarly of questionable usefulness; he doesn't need to worry about cheap resources, because there's no one to buy from or sell to, and all his older models are really only useful for recycling materials.

So, the question is, for a loner engineer with no need to worry about distribution, supply, and other such factors, what materials common in our modern world would be rendered useless?

EDIT: Oh dear, I seem to have made a significant blunder here. Let me clarify a few things:

  • Yes, a4android has the right definition of technopath; I've modified the question to explain it a bit better.
  • The term "obsolete" was a poor word choice; removed.
  • The fact that he's a technopath actually doesn't have all that much to do with the question; I've altered the title and a few points in the text to reflect this.

The actual question concerns what would be useful to an engineer unrestricted by modern economics, supply chains, public distribution, and the like, and what he should just not waste any time on. What technological products of modern industry and society are simply not worth it for someone developing tech completely on their own, and for their own use?

  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz A person with telepathic powers who can read and control electronic devices and systems. Also, called a techno-telepath (which is more self-explanatory & etymologically correct). "Technopath" can literally mean someone who suffers or feels pain due to technology. That's the trouble with neologisms, if you're not careful they can mean something else other than your original intention. As is the case here. :) $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Nov 8, 2016 at 3:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sorry materials rendered obsolete and materials useless for a technopath are different propositions. The question needs clarifying, so there is something that can be answered. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Nov 8, 2016 at 3:37
  • $\begingroup$ Rendered obsolete by what? Being ahead of your time doesn't mean a material is obsolete. You're cause and effect are not connecting here. Are you sure obsolete means what you think it means? $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2016 at 4:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ styrofoam would be useful to him if he was building a beanbag chair, or needed to insulate his house. useful depends on what he is engineering, which was rather vague. $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Nov 8, 2016 at 11:40
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I feel a bit hard for the question, because an engineer is not supposed to find any material useless. Everything is useful for something, maybe not for his very own personal zone, but materials just become less preferred over each other for specified goals. $\endgroup$
    – Sonic
    Nov 8, 2016 at 12:26

2 Answers 2


No martial ever was found useless in human history. Some was considered to dangerous, like lead for pipes. Some was replaced by cheaper, "good enough" ones. Some are no longer avaliable, like Roman concrete.

Knives made with stone age tech are still made - surgical blades are reported to make cuts that heal faster. Lead is bad for pipes, but found in many car batteries. Paper is perfect. If it would suck ink a bit less, wiring would be hard, a bit more and lines would get blurry and wide. It may be replaced with synthetic some day, but will continue to be useful, like it is for ages. Nuclear powered submarines had wooden parts in them. Still could have, it was decision based on economy to replace them. And so on.

Given that we use pretty much all materials we ever did, and none of it was ever considered useless in all applications, probably all will be considered useful in future. And the rest is money. Way to chaotic to predict.

  • $\begingroup$ Did they ever find a use for FOOF? $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Oct 26, 2020 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Joshua something that can't really exist at room temperature hardly deserves to be named engineering material at all. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Oct 26, 2020 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ It would appear they were testing it's usability in rocket propellant but found it too reactive. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Oct 26, 2020 at 16:25

Wood, cardboard, paper

Ignoring the possibility that he might like to furnish his home in wood he should have little need for wood or things made out of wood.

While wood has some special properties as a building material there is nothing that would be especially useful for a technopath. It not a specialized material in any way. Other stuff is lighter or stronger, more hygroscopic, etc.

While cardboard boxes are nice and cheap to store stuff you first need a machine to build then so using different kinds of containers would be better for Al. And why would he write on paper when he has super advanced stuff? He can just write on his electronic notepad. Storing information on paper is inefficient as hell.

Exception: As I am not intimately familiar with Al, I can't judge whether he might use toilet paper or paper handkerchiefs.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .