Is technology in fiction just a bit crap?

Posted: September 23, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

Twenty years from now nobody will remember the iPhone. Take it from me I know.

So if you write them into your novel pretty soon it’s gonna sound dated.  No matter how good it is, there’ll be this tiny voice in your reader’s mind saying: ‘Isn’t that a bit naff?’ It’ll be a bit like watching one of those awful 80s movies. You know the ones. They go shopping and start doing a stupid dance routine while they try on embarrassing clothes.

If you are writing fiction set in the present day it’s hard not to have your peeps checking their text messages, looking up stuff on the web or playing angry birds; but do they have to do it with a Macbook Air?  What’s wrong with using a laptop?

Okay, I’m being a bit didactic. It’s not that simple is it? The way I see it some things are acceptable and some things aren’t. Brett Easton Ellis used Patrick’s obsession with label and brand as a theatrical device and it worked. It got on my nerves but it worked; and some technology brands have woven themselves so deftly into the fabric of our lives that they are indistinguishable from other nouns or verbs: hoover, tweet or google anyone? But iPhone 4? I don’t think so. What’s that going to sound like when Apple are bought out by some small start-up from San Salvador and are renamed Paw Paw?

Harry Potter was absolutely fine zooming around on his Nimbus 2000 cos no-one’s making them anyway so they can’t go obsolete but Lisbeth Salander’s iBook 600 with 420 megs of ram was dated before the book even came out. She might as well have been wearing shoulder pads underneath that perm. You see when a character does anything else, like wears a suit or walks into a bar it’s timeless. You can either update it in your mind’s eye or you can project it back to the time it was set. But old technology? In my book that’s a bit naff.

What do you think?

  1. petedenton says:

    You’ve got a good point there, Phil. I always remember watching sci-fi like Star Trek as they wander round with basically an iPad looking at funky things. Times catch on quickly so you risk outdating your work as soon as it’s typed.

    Something else for us to think about when re-drafting!

  2. eden baylee says:

    God forbid Apple is bought up and renamed Paw Paw! Firstly, I had to look up the word “naff.” British slang, not a word I use, but perfectly fine and relatable to me.

    That’s how I view technology in fiction. I cannot know who will get the reference 10 or 20 years down the road, but I certainly know it is something readers can relate to now. If technology changes, and the reader does not understand the word, then they can do as I just did —- research it a bit and find out what it means.

    All reading, whether it’s fiction or not, should stimulate me. Learning something new can do that, even if it’s referring to past technology that is no longer relevant.


  3. Shannon Ryan says:

    I think Eden’s nailed it.

    I’ve heard people obsess about this issue, but I don’t think setting your story in a certain time period is necessarily a bad thing. I know when Max Allen Collins wrote his prequel, “First Quarry,” He worked hard to give it a genuine 1970s feel, so it would match the feel of his short stories.

    Mike Hammer stalked the streets of New York City for sixty years and barely noted the changes around him or that he never aged a day.

    Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but I find retro futurism quaint and fun. Books like Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles stand the test of time, even if the tech is just silly. I love the Flight of the Conchords song “Robots,” which starts out, “The distant future, the year 2000.”

    In the author’s notes of Robert J Sawyer’s WWW trilogy, the author talks about how the books took him eight years to write, and during that time, the technologies changed in unpredictable ways, so many of the predictions he’s made to keep things “fresh” didn’t turn out so well. While I was amused by the idea that RIM would be the major smartphone player in the near future, it didn’t keep me from enjoying the story. I actually dismissed it as a Canadian thing.

    Hopefully, in 20 years a laptop will be a thing of the past. I’m looking forward to cranial implants.

  4. I look at Blade Runner, as well as the many other stories written by Philip K. Dick, and see lots of tech stuff written in there. It all stands today. I do see your point though. Creating gadgety words is perhaps the way to go, weaving it in creatively as opposed to using actual pieces of tech that are already outdated the minute they’re released.

    As writers, we create. So creating fictitious gadgets is part of the fun.

  5. jfieldsjr says:

    This weighs on some author’s minds more than plot! Will my book stand the test of time? I don’t think about it. I just try not to under-tech, like if there’s an instance where someone would naturally shoot someone a text, I think its silly to have then call. I was watching TV the other day and was like “Did they actually get in a car and drive over to their house just to tell them something?” Sometimes the absence of it can be more glaring than if it were antiquated.

  6. Hilarious, and I agree . . . I’m wincing at the reference I put to an I7 in one of my stories, but as people mention, maybe not so bad.

  7. emmiemears says:

    I’m re-reading a series right now, and I giggle every time she mentions her “beeper.” I agree with you that technology really can date fiction. As you mentioned with the shoulder pads and perm, fashion can as well. I tend to shy away from dressing my characters except to perhaps mention the colours of the clothing. Skinny jeans won’t be en vogue forever (we can hope).

    One thing I’ve come up against in my story is whether or not my characters can press a button on their phone. With so many touch screens now, that almost seemed dated before I finished typing it. I had originally played with the idea of setting my story about fifty years in the future, but then honestly just couldn’t be arsed to follow through for the same reasons you’re talking about.

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