Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Monday, 16 September 2013

Back to the Future: the Curse of Modern Technology

by Jennifer Young

Back in the good old days...
I’m struggling to build a website. It’s supposed to be easy. Everyone tells me it is. Everyone around me seems only to click their fingers fora beautiful, professional-looking site to appear in front of them, whereas I slave away for hours and all I produce is something with half a paragraph of text, a photo of myself unintentionally cropped in all the wrong places and a floating box which says ‘add text here’. #technologyfail, as my teenagers might say.

In the rest of my life, I have to admit, technology does make life easier. I’m no Luddite but nor does any of this come instinctively. I may have been the last person in the western world to get a mobile phone but now I have it, it helps me out in all sorts of ways. There’s nothing like the bus tracker app when you get on the wrong bus. Google Earth? Wouldn’t be without it. And there’s the netbook which fits in my handbag so that I can write when I’m away, and the Kindle so that I can read when the bus app tells me I’ve ten minutes to wait for the next bus…whatever did we do before we had them?

Well, as writers I think our life was much easier. More specifically, I think plotting was a lot easier. Technology moves so quickly now that before you’ve finished drafting a plot some new advance renders it impractical. I bet crime writers utter a curse at the news of every breakthrough in forensic science: the good old-fashioned sleuth must be impossible to write these days.

Author's curse.
Image courtesy of blakeburris (via Wikimedia)
And what about mobile phones? Gone are the days when people couldn’t be contacted, or were able to keep secrets. Thanks to satnav your heroine no longer has any excuse to go wandering down a strange country lane in the dark: she’ll just seem plain silly. And that stranger, he reminds me of someone…I’ll just take a quick picture on my phone. It’s particularly galling when you decide it’s time to resurrect an old plot only to realise that just wouldn’t happen now. And then you have to start all over again.

There are solutions, of course. Recently I had to have a heroine, who fled her ex-boyfriend, go cold turkey on Facebook so that it wasn’t too easy for him to find her. But your options are limited: it gets a bit repetitive when the hero can’t call the heroine because he’s run out of credit (does anyone still have pay as you go?) or charge, or he loses the phone; and when he does get through the heroine can’t reply because she’s broken her phone or her over-enthusiastic flatmate has put it in the washing machine. In real life technology considerably narrows our options for the plot twists, strangles our creativity.


Except in the case of my nascent website, of course, where the opportunities for things to go wrong seem to increase with every click of the mouse…. 

13 comments:

  1. In the ranks of the technologically inept, I cede to no one Jennifer. In the end, when I do solve a problem it's usually because I've tried every combination of buttons to press and eventually hit upon the right ones, which I promptly forget. I know what you mean about technology changing the ways we plot our crimes and although it does limit our options that means that we have to be more creative in our imagining. We can't rely on the same old same old so the genre has to evolve. Maybe not a bad thing when it's been around for so long.

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    1. Bill, I can give anyone a run for their money!

      You're right about improving our creativity. But I do think that the increasing levels of technology mean that a lot of traditional plot won't work.

      I suppose the only option is to go for historical novels!

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  2. Just thought I'd mention! I have an iPhone and it's pay as you go! So there is at least one person who still has pay as you go!

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    1. Chris, I'm delighted! That gives me an opt out for the next plot problem!

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  3. I think there are always around the annoying ways new technology disrupts a plot (although they're getting harder to find!). As to the battles with real technology, e.g. websites, well, the less said the better. Nothing is as easy as they say it is!

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    1. How true, Gill. I'm getting increasingly desperate. And the other element it that the pace of change means that you even have to think about it in flashbacks. For example, I saw my very first mobile phone in 1989, the size of a brick and in a car. When did they become portable? When could you first get the internet, or text?

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  4. My mobile phone is just that - it's a phone and I can make and receive calls and texts. I can't cope with the thought of a smart phone, IPhone or whatever. Crime writer Catriona McPherson sets her crime novels in the 1920s so she doesn't have to worry about thechnological advances or DNA and forensics.
    Good luck with the website.

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    1. I think historical novels are the way round the problem - if you don't mind doing all the research that goes with them!

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  5. Ah technology. Great when it works.

    I can't imagine writing a novel without a computer, yet my first books were written longhand!

    It's a two-edged sword though. Social media takes so much time! And trying to get on top of every new development gets harder all the time.

    Good luck with the website.

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    1. I still like writing longhand, occasionally (I'm just out of practice so I get writers' cramp much more quickly). And it was interesting: I picked up a writing book recently which starts with copious advice about choosing the right kind of pen and paper!

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  6. I just love, love, love the idea of going cold turkey on Facebook....dare I???? Tee hee....
    Great post.....says this non-techie who doesn't have apps or satnav or.....well, you can guess the rest.

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    1. I confess, I'm a bit of a sucker for a really quirky app, though. I think moving to a smartphone may have been a mistake!

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  7. I don't mind technology in real life but definitely think it ruins plots - although a recent school competition we ran showed how inventive the teens were in updating fairy tales to include technology! I have a small but ordinary mobile with no Internet connection and it's pay as you go.

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