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I’ve noticed quite a few posts asking for “alternatives” to established technologies like wheels and firearms. However, in almost every question in the category that I’ve seen, there has been only two accepted answers.

  1. There is a non-preferable “alternative” that will not be adopted because it is not cost-efficient and will only be adopted if the resources needed to make the established technology are unavailable
  2. A cost-efficient “alternative” does exist but it is not adopted since it cannot replicate all of the features of the established technology and will also only be adopted if the resources needed to make the established technology are unavailable

The reason for this is quite simple: if there was a perfect alternative to the established technology, it would have been already used in the real-world.

Here are some examples of what I was talking about:

Many of these questions have been closed for being either too broad or being opinion-based. How should we respond to these types of posts when the answer will almost always be one of the two I mentioned above?

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    $\begingroup$ Closure seems appropriate. At their core, they seem too broad - we don't really want completely open ended questions there and "what will replace X" is pretty much that. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Mar 23 '20 at 6:03
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe we should add it to Worldbuilding Stack Exchange’s help center pages on “What types of questions should I avoid asking?” as “questions that ask for alternatives to well-established technologies” and explain why (if an alternative did exist, it would have already been used in the real-world). $\endgroup$
    – Galactic
    Mar 23 '20 at 6:22
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like this already falls under the "be specific" guideline in the help section. It even links to this and I think it's still applicable advice. In fact, Green's answer points directly to one question asking for an alternative power source and explains why it's too broad how it can be improved. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Mar 23 '20 at 6:31
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    $\begingroup$ in my opinion some alternative may can work, if the usual thing doesnt have the material in the OP world or the world is insufficient for the usual method that make the alternative can be use despite the flaw, or maybe they lack the technology so they use different technology branch so creating entirely different one compare to the common one we know of. if the world they use is pretty much is earth with same history and culture then the answer probably the same that you already listed, unless OP list restriction in their question which canmake the answer fulfill the criteria despite the flaw. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Mar 23 '20 at 6:47
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Stealing a comment:

Closure seems appropriate. At their core, they seem too broad - we don't really want completely open ended questions there and "what will replace X" is pretty much that.

-VLAZ

I have added a proposal for that type of question in the Catalog of Question Types. Please notice that I am in favor of questions about alternative technologies being on topic, as long as they follow the site's guidelines in order to avoid the problems OP is mentioning.

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  • $\begingroup$ Of course alternative technologies can be on topic. "What will replace X given constraints A, B, and C" is a perfectly valid question. The problem is the unconstrained nature, so if you ask "what will replace calculators", that borders on meaningless. Replace why? And how? But if you say "what species that only use geometry for all equations use instead of calculators", that's valid. Also, I just made this example up but it kind of got me thinking about machines that allow you to define your own triangles and circles and fit them together into "an equation". $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Mar 26 '20 at 6:44
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My take is that this forum is focused on the making of fictional worlds. I don't disagree about closing, overly broad questions, but is that really the best thing to do?

I think, in addition to our closure votes, we really need to stress to querents, and most especially to new querents, the need to focus on their fictional worlds while asking us questions.

I mean, why can't firearms be replaced by razor-fanged monkeys catapaulted from crossbows? Bloody things are worse than piranhas! The point is not so much to just close a "bad" query, but to make a hum-drum question into a really good question! I think this could be done if we encouraged them to offer a little background on their world a/o setting so we could really engage our imaginations in this place!

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