Wednesday, April 15, 2009

When Technology Fails

There was an interesting article in The New York Times this past weekend that talked about how technology is making certain plot devices obsolete. Devices such as having to isolate a character, the inability to reach or contact someone, misunderstandings, etc.

It's a great article that covers some fascinating moments in literature. Author M.J. Rose is quoted in the article as talking about the fact that if a character missed a train in 1888 or even 1988, there was no way to contact the person at the other end, so they were likely to think you either changed your mind, had been captured, weren't able to escape, etc. But in 2009, Rose says, you simply whip out your cell phone or text the person that you're going to be late.

Given our socially connected world, it's a somewhat challenging thing to achieve. Isolation. Missed communications.

Interestingly enough, I faced the opposite challenge with my novel MORNING SON (which I had originally wrote half a dozen years ago and am currently revising) -- I needed to have a character traveling north of Sudbury, Ontario and being out of cell phone contact in certain scenes, yet have cell phone contact in others. My challenge was, at the time I originally wrote the story, there was NO cell phone signal anywhere near the town of Levack. But for the story, I manufactured the fact that there was a signal available in town, yet when the character travels north on highway 144, he loses his signal and therein lies a bunch of important missed phone calls.

Fortunately enough, reality caught up with me and currently, you DO get a cell phone signal in the town of Levack, yet there are spots as you head north on Highway 144 where the signal drops off.

Which is really good, because, Erratic Cycles, a story I had published originally in 1999 and which was reprinted in my book One Hand Screaming, relies on the fact that the main character's cell phone is useless to him when his car breaks down in the middle of the night on a deserted stretch of Highway 144.

So far, technology hasn't rendered THAT particular story unbelievable.

But I suppose that currently, in order to create isolation, there needs to be some sort of technological failure. Some sort of Kryptonite-laden circumstances that renders a technology useless for the convenience of isolation. However, nomatter how technology continues to progress and allow us ways to connect, I'm sure that writers will continue to devise new ways for people to misunderstand one another or establish isolation.

After all, technology changes, but plot devices abide.

1 comment:

lime said...

wow, i hadn't thought about that but it really is an interesting literary dilemma.