Remembering Technology

You know, back in my day…

This makes me feel a bit like an idiot.

Maybe it’s the kind of books I read or the era of the authors. In fantasy, there are more ties to the old than the new. Take, for instance, the world of Harry Potter, where magic repels electronic technology. Or in romances set in Victorian era, with typewriters and opera glasses and phonographs. Or in the case of Stephen King, he writes either in a time of less complicated technology or he writes the kind of people who don’t keep technology. Even his writer characters often prefer an electronic typewriter to a computer. Then there are the apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic or dystopian stories where the technology is either destroyed, the cause of the apocalypse, or futuristic enough as to be distanced from our personal experience of technology.

Then I read Mira Grant’s FEED and went, Oh yeah, Internet.

I think part of the reason why it’s easy to forget about technology in writing or reading fiction is because technology makes us sedentary and keeps us in our homes, and well, that’s just not the stuff of stories. When your characters are active, it’s easy to believe that they’re not tied down to social media sites or addicted to their iPhone. In fact, it’s easy to forget about these things altogether. There’s so much your characters are doing, they don’t have time to put up a Facebook status.

Another reason is just how fast technology is moving now, so fast that even consumers are getting upgrade fatigue. I’m so behind on phones, I still prefer laptops, and I’m leery of the Apple cult. I’m afraid that if I get on the wagon, there’s no getting off. I’m also afraid, like a lot of consumers, that I’ll get something just in time for it to become obsolete, so what’s the point? With technology moving so fast, outdated technology can make a book just as outdated. You want to ground your novel in the time it’s set, but I can understand being nervous about making it unrelatable in five years or so. You want it to stand the test of time, right?

But at the same time, technology is increasingly a part of our lives, our cell phones and our computers and tablets almost as much a part of us as friends and family. They hold the order of our lives, and without them, there is chaos and devastation (which is why cyberthreats are becoming more and more frightening). So it’s important that when you write something in the now, you remember the technology.

It felt unnatural for me when I started, because I’m seriously not used to it. In the past, my characters tend to be cut off from the world in one way or another. But in my fairy tale remix, I have a social media and networking-savvy protagonist as well as her assistant who depend on their smartphones for scheduling and keeping track of each other. The phones actually figure into the plot. In my original nightmare novel, my protag lived in a cut-off world, but in the rewrite, social media is actually essential to the story.

One of the things that reassures me is that writers from the Victorian era and writers from the 50s – writers from any time – manage to write their time without it becoming irrelevant. The ones that stick around are the ones that have something to say about people – people who are framed by their time period but who still relate to people today, who still strike a spark 50, 100, 200, 2000 years later. The time is important, but some things transcend time. And technology is just one of the things that pinpoint time. Technology merely accessorizes the real story. (If the story is about technology, like technology taking us over, well, then it becomes something more than just technology, but that’s an issue for another time.)

It’s new for me and it’s slightly stressful because of it, but sometimes I still need to remind myself — in spite of the fact that I’m listening to iTunes playlists and checking my phone and typing my novels while intermittently checking my e-mail and Facebook and Etsy pages — that yes, Virginia, technology does in fact exist in a modern fictional world. Right. Must remember that.


Note: For the purposes of this post, “technology” mostly means “things that run on electricity and often with a computer chip.” I know that’s not the archaeological or anthropological definition, but it’s what we lay people usually mean.

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