Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
In my interview with Blaise Lucey last week, he raised an issue I’ve been thinking a lot about myself. Has fiction lost touch with reality?
Blaise meant, specifically, that novelists don’t seem to be aware that there’s been a technology revolution over the past 20 years. Characters might use cell phones but they don’t tend to use smartphones the way actual people are using them. When you think about it, most mysteries and thrillers could probably be reduced to short stories if the writers just handed their detective an iPhone.
This is really a fascinating phenomenon. Fiction, through the ages, has generally reflected the times in which it’s written. If trains existed, people took trains. If telegraph lines were around, people sent telegrams. How come our characters are stuck in the late ‘90s?
Maybe writers aren’t considering how technology might change a story line. Or maybe they do consider these things but reject them because they’ll eliminate plot complications that make a book interesting. Does that mean real life has become uninteresting?
Or maybe our technology has rendered us too passive. Maybe we’ve become techno-zombies, in a metaphorical sense, walking around with our heads down in that ubiquitous iPhone posture, slamming into each other and inanimate objects. We wouldn’t make very good characters.
Strangely enough, you do see technology reflected in movies and on TV shows — at least more often than in books. Why is that?
It’s an intriguing question. We could be the first generation of writers who decline to reflect the world around us as it is, preferring a less authentic universe where the skills of a writer are better suited. You could make the case that fiction is evolving away from the longer narrative to shorter, more visual genres that can make timely use of technology. Easily transmitted media files, electronic text, GPS capabilities on phones — all of them can be combined into a personalized experience that’s either ultra-fiction or something so different it needs a name of its own. Don’t know what it is, but it sure ain’t a novel …
How do you see it? If you’re a writer, do you purposely insert technological details to give your work a more contemporary feel? Or do you immerse your characters in the not-so-recent past so that you can ignore Skype, Spotify, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, and Google driverless cars?
If you’re a reader, what do you expect when you open up a novel written in the last year or two? A semblance of reality or an escape from it?
What will future generations make of this era, I wonder, when we stopped telling it like it is?