From a window in the commercial district of Glitztown, if you use high powered binoculars, you can see spearmen ambushing herds of carribou. In the Jungle by the Big Lake, frightened tribesmen duck whenever they see a plane fly overhead, heading from city to city.

When you have a low-tech area of the world make contact with a higher-tech area, normally there is some sort of technological interchange. For example, American Indians quickly learned to use rifles on horseback.

What would cause for a world to have a handful of industrialized cities, while the entire rest of the planet is stuck in roughly the Paleolithic era?


  • The city and the rest of the world are human. (Not necessarily set on earth. Can be futuristic)
  • No magic allowed. Soft science is ok.
  • I would prefer for this society to be stable (i.e. it can't have just occured, or be about to crumble).
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Kernel! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ Paleolithic era is what I am looking for, Raditz. Thanks. I know there are isolated tribes that avoid technology. I'm looking for a reason that almost an entire world would be untouched by technology, despite physical proximity to modern technology. I updated the post. $\endgroup$
    – Kernel
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 20:31

6 Answers 6


First of all, if you want a light-hearted look into this very phenomena, rent a copy of The Gods Must Be Crazy.

The only answer is that it might be done if the high-tech society is religiously determined not to interact with the stone age cultures. But, realistically, could it be done without keeping the stone agers on a reserve with oversight? (Would even that work for very long?) I suspect not for at least these reasons:


Stone age cultures migrate. Eventually a group would come in contact with the high-tech society. What will you do? Exterminate them in the name of keeping the rest of the stone age culture intact? With each passing generation there will be more stone age people and therefore more contacts simply because the stone agers walk around. With each contact comes cultrual contamination.

Massive land use

High-tech cultures, no matter how populously small, require space. They need space for manufacturing, agriculture, entertainment, housing, etc. Most people think of a city and believe the "city boundary" marks the extent of the city. Nope, the outlying farms, logging, mining, hunting, etc. mark their boundary — and that's not including wind farms, solar arrays, and whatever else may be required to sustain the city. Your population needs to be sustainable which means field laborers (and their families), transportation (families), education (families), medical services (families), right up to politicians (families). A fully self-sustaing technologically advanced city is massive. Even sprawling. And what's to keep the stone agers from discovering that wonderfully abundant field of corn, or beating the snot out of your solar array because the protective glass makes great spear heads, or seeing your wind farm from twenty miles away? More contamination.


I don't know how you would suppress this basic human(oid) emotion in your high-tech people, but inevitably, somebody is gonna want what the stone age people have. It doesn't matter if it's land, resources, slave labor, or child sacrifice. It would be difficult with anything but an incredibly small high-tech society to keep track of everyone who might think they have an interest in what the stone agers have.


"... was a system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa between 1948 and 1991."

A high-tech society that didn't develop biased or biggoted feelings toward their stone age neighbors would be miraculous. Sci-Fi sometimes tries to promote the idea of universal righteousness as the "obvious" evolutionary result of greater intelligence (as if intelligence had anything to do with wisdom or self-discipline), but in the end, "human nature" tends to win out. Stories that depend on this idea often become boring because we, the people on Earth today, simply can't relate to it. We naturally distrust anyone who isn't "just like us". Thus, apartheid is born.


High tech cultures have leisure time. Idleness being the Devil's workshop, some of that leisure time would eventually be used by some well-meaning but ultimately world-destroying activist who sincerely believes that advocating on behalf of his or her distant cousins is a moral imperative. This ultimately validates Jean-Luc Picard's quote from the TNG episode Symbiosis:

History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.

Which only goes to show that the time between holding up a protest sign and the zombie apocalypse is a lot shorter than you might think.

  • $\begingroup$ There is no fundamental need for sprawling exurbs - they could be entirely subterranean. There is no need for sprawling solar collectors with natural gas or nuclear, vertical farms removes the needs for agricultural land, raw materials are mined from shafts not open-pit. Use geology (mountains, swamps, or other such natural barriers) to discourage walking near what little facilities are exposed, and the only "interaction" could be paleolithic people seeing enormous flying monsters on occasion. When there is an encounter, some weird outlander has more wild stories of monsters and gods. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 14:06

I don't think this could've realistically been the case all throughout the history of that world. But it could've happened later.

Everything in my post focuses on how this happened initially. By now everything could've changed.

If your next-door neighbour can work at McDonalds (a random job most people can do) to buy a car, you don't spend your time in the wild hunting deer barefoot, you also get that job at McDonalds - because it's easy. You have to be absolutely crazy to stay in the wild. So here is option 1:

Those people are crazy. Why? Experiments by the government, industrial waste in the water supply, there are countless reasons. The sane people have stayed in the cities while the rest of the world has gone mad.

The other option of course is to make it equally as unappealing to live in such a city so that an equilibrium is reached. Here is option 2:

Living in the high-tech enclaves is not better than living in the wilderness. There can be a number of reasons for that, maybe a dystopian style government, maybe those chemicals in the water supply, maybe a few rich people enslave everyone else and those tribesmen are run-away slaves. Another possibility is a low tech cult/religion that demands a simple life-style that has developed because of the drawbacks of civilization. The question here is why they went back to the Paleolithic era and not let's say the middle ages. Here are several things that might have happened, maybe a combination of those.

  1. The enclaves actively prevent progress of the surrounding areas. No access to metals, attempts at farming have ended in bloodshed. Why would they do that? Maybe to prevent slaves from running away. Maybe because they are just not very nice people.

  2. All has happened very quickly without any preparation. Just getting out of there was important and nobody knew how to do anything. Contact to the enclaves has been avoided and people are sort of happy now. A hippie's paradise.

  3. They started with roughly Neolithic (or more advanced) settlements, but over the years, perhaps after a couple of plagues, they have degressed. On top of that, maybe anyone that had the potential to do something better went into the enclaves.


One potential solution:


In your example there was nothing preventing the low tech civilisation from quickly 'teching up' but their ability to acquire and learn how to use the more advanced tech. Even if the technology is far more advanced than their tech level they can learn through observation and imitation.

But what if the high tech race decided (sensibly) to put biometric (or some other race specific) recognition into all their (presumably very powerful) gear? Now all the low tech race will have are fancy baubles that can't be reverse engineered, no matter how hard they try or how smart they are. You might expect some tech uplift thanks to cargo-cultism, but that is resolved if the tech is complex enough that higher mathematics/physics/electronics knowledge is needed to understand the fundamentals.

Also: 'Ug threw the ceremonial spear at Frederic, who caught it, untied the standard issue blaster from the end of the stick, and casually dispatched the rest of the tribe's warriors.'


You may have a few colonization/trading/mining bases in a planet having only a few "interesting" things.

Space travelers would remain mostly in their enclaves doing their business.

They would be regarded as "gods" by the aborigines and left alone unless directly summoned.

City dwellers would be too busy harvesting what they need/want to "bother" with the "savages.

Everybody is happy.

  • A significant number of people firmly believe that technology is bad for the soul and/or the environment.
  • The population density of the entire planet is low enough to allow them to "walk out" of the cities and start their natural organic farming villages, with homespun clothes, fertilizer-free grain, etc.
  • Even as they find out how hard that is, a significant part sticks to this lifestyle over several generations. The stone age people resist contact, the city dwellers indulge them.

It is the last part that is hard to believe.

  • $\begingroup$ Without writing, all knowledge not directly taught is entirely lost to the next generation - the first children will know nothing of tech, except that their parents warned them the city-folk were evil and to be avoided (not 100% retention, but a tiny portion returning to the city to never be seen again might serve to reinforce the taboo). $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 14:12


Your advanced persons might steer clear of the primitives because they are aware of the presence of endemic disease among these people.

enter image description here from The Contextual Determinants of Malaria edited by Elizabeth A. Professor Casman

Another historical example is sleeping sickness. from http://www.who.int/trypanosomiasis_african/country/history/en/index5.html

The rapid spread of sleeping sickness as a result of the "opening up of Africa" followed precisely the sequence of the European invasion along the Congo River as far as the shores of Lake Victoria. The total number of deaths in the Congo basin has been estimated at half a million and in Uganda at 200.000 to 300.000. The uncontrollable spread and high death rates had a dramatic impact on the local populations as well as on the colonial administrations.

The effect of European diseases on the American Indians and Pacific Islanders is well known. Columbus brought back syphilis, or the Great Pox from the New World and this wreaked havoc on European society.

Imagine if the American Indians had a disease like smallpox or measles that they were immune to but the Europeans were not. The Europeans would have had to keep away. Your advanced people are aware of the presence of disease in these primitive areas - perhaps carried by insects, as with malaria. Or perhaps something like tuberculosis or syphilis, endemic among the primitive people but to which your advanced folks have no resistance. The advanced people would worry about starting an epidemic in one of their own cities (which might have happened in the past) and so would not risk contacting the primitives.


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