I recently wrote a story that takes place “today”ish and I was really annoyed by how many cellphones had to be involved. The story’s main characters were in NYC and generally young – one was 13 – so it would have been dishonest and stupid to pretend that cellphones weren’t a huge component of their lives, because, of course, they would be. What’s silly is that though I am wedded to my cellphone, I am not a huge fan of involving modern technology in my writing (although I welcome pop-culture/product references). Cellphones are okay, but for some reason text messages and IMs just seem like too much in literature, and I’m not sure why. Some part of me thinks including those messages is a cheap device, or is tacky, or would seem more appropriate for a YA novel. But I recognize that’s a vague and confused prejudice. Texts messages (and sometimes not getting a text message) effect my mood, influence my schedule and take up my time, particularly when I write them.
In the NYT last week, suspense writer Matt Richtel discussed how modern technology gets in the way of some of literature’s fundamental plot devices, “missed connections, miscommunications, the inability to reach someone.” It’s true. A friend of mine is working on a novella and the main characters are teenagers – she realized she had to set it pre-cellphones because so many of the mishaps they experience just wouldn’t happen today.
I suppose this leaves us with a few options – set your story pre-cellphones or embrace the stories cellphones and other pieces of modern technology offer (for one thing, we need books with people reading Kindles). Cellphones get stolen, dropped in toilets and um, dropped from chair lifts and lost in mountains of snow. Trust me, there is rich in drama here, especially if, let’s say, the person also drops the keys to their rental car into said mountain of snow and is alone and has nowhere to stay and has a number of ski-bum meth addicts are trying to get her to crash at their place (“don’t worry, I live with my mom”). I know that doesn’t sound very exciting or complicated, but I think in a few years we’ll see cellphones in tons of stories and won’t think the writer, or the story, less worthy because of it. And we’ll admire how deft they are for building believable suspense around modern conveniences.