Clayton Blue's picture
Clayton Blue from Arizona is reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides December 2, 2011 - 5:15pm

Mulling over novels I had read, I came across a sort of technological border-line. I started thinking about old stories and plots in which characters would be put in a situation where, by today's standards, would seem impossible to be in due to technological advances, such as the interenet, cell phones, etc. I wonder, are present authors attempting to create a story without the technological advances of today forced to a specific time frame? Writing a story that would seemingly take place in the present would actually appear to take place within the ''pre-internet era'' if such easily available technologies aren't available to the characters. Even more difficult to imagine, writing a story with all the current technologies involved. Most likely, it would be obsolitely incorrect by the time it hit the shelves. I suppose the attempt would be to write a near future that matched technological advances for the peak of your book sales. I just mean, technology goes with style and fashion and other fads that may be present in the novel and they should add up.

Perhaps this is actually reference to a caste system, or class technology. If the main character is not utilizing the basic of technology of time, perhaps the character is not financially able.

Can the story take place in the present and still be believable if the technology is not utilized?  

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books December 2, 2011 - 5:23pm

Yeah, I think so. Not much interesting happens when you are sitting on your ass in front of your laptop (except for, hopefully, conversations like these). Great stories require the characters to be doing things, experiencing things, talking face to face. Now, maybe you mention e-mail or a mobile phone, but I don't see the necessity of sitting around writing stuff like "She then pulled out her iPhone 4s and asked Siri to direct her to the nearest bar to drink her troubles away". For reference, if you are reading a story about people on some sort of trek or quest, you don't read a lot of "he then pulled out his map, checked the legend, traced his finger over the highway 40 line..." They just go.

Where it gets difficult, is when you need a character to be in a situation where they can't call for help, or can't get out of where they are. Then the reader may scratch their head and say "okay, where's the cell phone?", but I find that is easy to get around, as well. "He realized, with horror, that he had left his cell phone in the car", "the battery had run out", "he dropped the phone in his hurry to dial the number, smashing it".

I know I'm focusing on phones, but that's because smart phones can do just about anything and I have become unreasonably reliant on mine, to the point where, absent of any urgent situation, I get heart palpitations when I realize the battery is dead or it is at home.

Clayton Blue's picture
Clayton Blue from Arizona is reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides December 2, 2011 - 5:27pm

Very good points. I guess writing for technology is mostly writing away from technology so your character can live a 'normal' life... I wonder if future novels will inspire people to get away from their computers or will confuse them into dowloading the movie.

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books December 2, 2011 - 5:33pm

I also feel like, in most good stories, the stuff that would be "covered" with technology is left out, anyway. Kind of like using the bathroom. You know the character probably does it over the course of the story, but it's not important to the story you are trying to tell, so you let it be assumed. 

 

Clayton Blue's picture
Clayton Blue from Arizona is reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides December 2, 2011 - 5:44pm

What if you are discussing the occupation of the character. Would the technology of the job set the standard for the technology of the novel?

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books December 2, 2011 - 5:52pm

I suppose that's an obvious exception, for instance, writing a crime novel, you might have to include forensic technology, or writing and end of the world scenario, you might have to write about military tech...but those are novels where the technology is central, I suppose I am talking about more general stories, where technology is obviously a part of life for the characters, as it is for us, but isn't going to be central to the plot. 

In cases where the tech is central, then you have to dive in and hope for the best, knowing eventually it will be dated, but if you do it well, I don't think it matters. People don't pick apart science fiction for not getting the future "right", because the over arching story and theme are more important than an accurate prediction of what the year 2000 brought us.

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin December 2, 2011 - 6:34pm

When I was writing my book the way I did it was that the people involved in that organization just didn't have a lot of need for or trust in computers to run their drug trafficking (electricity for them was all self-generated too, so they didn't have the power either), they used cell phones, sure, I made plenty of use of burners. That's a great way to throw in a modern feel without feeling chained to the world of technology.

But the only place that computers show up is in a flashback, when the narrator is talking about how he got rid of his "identity" in order to flee from his life. He sent all of his personal ID (License, Social Security, etc.) numbers indiscriminately to everyone in his spam box.

So, my advice would be to avoid too many specifics, keep with big and semi-permanent aspects of tech like cell phones and e-mail and "the internet" (avoiding specific sites)

If tech is central to the story it is tougher to do, we live in a disposable age and all of our beloved treasures will be obsolete before Samsung or Apple have to turn in their Quarterly Projections. But Novels don't plan on becoming obsolete, I understand your problem here. If I wanted to write a tech heavy story I would set it at least 5 years in the future. That's the only way I can think to do it. There are still a lot of the same risks, but it frees your mind from the limitations of available technology and the particular branding of our era.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words December 2, 2011 - 7:54pm

there was a trend in sci-fi that started up not all that long ago - because the pace of technological innovation had accelerated, stories were set in either the current time, an alternative timeline (like Watchmen) or in the way distant future (like the year 3000)  - as such, there's no second-guessing the technological milieu.

besides all that, there are still communities that aren't nearly as technophilic - stories can always be set in Amish country.

razorsharp's picture
razorsharp from Ohio is reading Atlas Shrugged December 2, 2011 - 9:28pm

Although technology removes some typical fictional scenarios of the past, it just introduces new ones. Sure, we don't have the phone dilemma of the past where the character searches for a phone or goes to a phone booth, but that just opens up new freedoms for the character the same way cell phones open up new freedoms for us in real life. I've seen a lot of films in the last ten years that wouldn't work without cell phones. Joseph Conrad's stories are almost all on boats, they've very specific to an age that is long gone.

Can the story take place in the present and still be believable if the technology is not utilized?

Sure. Horror stories love to do this as things tend to be scarier when one's cut off from technology. There are still people who don't own a computer or cell phone. There are third world countries and communes and ghettos. It's just a matter of who the characters are and what the setting is.

I don't think you have to worry about a story becoming technologically obsolete by the time it hits shelves. If that is the case just specify when it takes place. The internet really shook things up in the 90s. Cell phones became big in the 2000s. Every other change is pretty incrimental. You don't have to specify the model number of your character's cell phone. Plus, things aren't advancing at the rapid-fire pace of the 80s-90s and I doubt they ever will again.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs December 2, 2011 - 11:22pm

Writers are always free to write stories that occur in the past when our current technologies are unavailable. Or maybe use a protagonist who is eccentric and does not use things like the Internet and have a cell phone. My current roommate where I'm subletting doesn't have a cell phone and we don't have a land line. I have no idea how he functions, although he seems to be frequently on the Internet on his desktop. Don't think he has a laptop. Whereas I feel "behind the times" because the only thing that my cell phone is really good for is making phone calls and receiving them, along with text messages (I never text back, although I might call). I really don't need to have the internet on my phone or any other special functions. I'm already spend to much time on the internet. It's nice to take a break from it whenever I leave my room.

I do think cell phones have made writing fiction a lot easier as far as using them as objects in stories.There have been a few great books here and there that almost take place entirely on the internet, but people generally do not spend all their time on their computers so writing a novel where the protagonist only occasionally uses the internet is not a stretch of the imagination.

Clayton Blue's picture
Clayton Blue from Arizona is reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides December 2, 2011 - 11:59pm

Thank you for all the great points of view. I am glad I found this site.