I've always liked the Warhammer and Warhammer 40k universes. They were created to give a background narrative to tabletop battle games, and yet they have become incredibly deep, rich, and extensive. Who knew that the dystopian dreams of tabletop gaming nerds could be so compelling?
In Warhammer 40k (hereafter referred to, as in gaming culture, as simply
'40k'), a part of the invented history is a time called the Dark Age of
Technology. Ironically, it refers to a period in which the human
civilization - the Imperium - was at its technological peak. Shortly
after it experiences a long, catastrophic fall, and never recovers.
However, some of the relics of that bygone age still exist - and more
importantly, still function. To a degree. They are maintained as much as
possible by the technicians of the age, who - while they don't really
understand HOW these things work - know just enough to KEEP them
working. Entire planets sometimes depend on these machines.
I work in datacenters (big rooms where info-heavy institutions keep
their main computer systems). Recently, in the basement of an older
datacenter, a few machines were found, part of a system that nobody
could seem to identify. It took almost a month to dig up the one person
in the company who knew anything about the system - and it turns out, it
was a very important system. It had been quietly humming along for ten
years, forgotten by the people who were supposed to maintain it.
Kind of scary. If these machines had suddenly developed problems, it
could have taken days, even weeks to fix it. We're talking about serious
money lost, perhaps even jobs, because a company nearly let the
so-called secrets of a machine pass out of its gestalt knowledgebase.
Obviously, this is not quite a parallel to the fictional world of 40k.
These were old and obsolete machines - ten years in the world of
computer systems is a few generations. We'd lost the knowledge of it
because we'd since replaced them with far better models. Still, with the
current dearth of science and math students in the western world, and
with this experience, I suddenly wonder just how easy it might be for
our society to slip into the strange scenario of depending on technology
we don't understand anymore.