Sunday, April 3, 2011

See More Evil, Hear More Evil

I was thinking about technology today and how it's changed during the past few decades. I'm all in favor of new technology as long as it's used responsibly and doesn't cause more headaches than it's worth. As far as modern conveniences go, like cell phones for example, they have their uses, but people also grow to rely maybe a little too much on them too quickly. On one hand, I'm glad I have a cell phone. It helps to be able to communicate when needed, no matter where you happen to be. It's one of those things that has made communication so easy and made the world a little smaller in some ways. But it has its downside too, since it seems that the easier it is to communicate, the more some people do it when they shouldn't or don't have to. It's made movie theatres less enjoyable. I get aggravated  with the background chatter during movies or the awful glare caused by people who just can't resist the urge to text while the film is playing. I kind of feel sad for kids too. I see kids in the store with their mothers and  see the poor children being ignored while Mom is shopping and on the phone at the same time. I see a lot of teenagers and young adults too who never seem to put the phone away. They treat it like it's a sixth finger! Personally, I don't have any need to have a phone within reach every moment of every day. I like the occasional privacy, the times when nobody knows where I am and nobody can find me. When I was a kid and we went on long drives, I fought boredom by looking out the windows and watching the scenery, the cars passing us, the people walking along the streets, the cows on the farmland. I learned by watching and it made me ask questions. It makes me sad now to see kids in the backseats of their parents' SUVs staring at TV screens during the ride, oblivious to all the interesting sights outside the windows. Those kids are missing things. So technology, I think, has its advantages, but also subtracts something from the experience of needing to find things to keep the mind occupied.

All that being  said, I was also thinking about how the ease of communication in the present day has had an effect on writers and made it neccesary to keep certain things in mind when plotting a story that takes place in the current era. The first few mystery stories I wrote were period pieces. Sherlock Holmes takes place right on the dividing line between the 19th and 20th centuries and my pulp stories about Dan Fowler and Hound-Dog Harker and the Black Bat all take place in the 1930s. There are no cell phones, no computers, no easy instant access to people or information. The easiest any detective in fiction of the first half of the 20th century had it when it came to communication was Dick Tracy with his 2-way wrist radio (which became a little TV later on). That was created by Chester Gould as a story element that was ahead of its time and it certainly made Tracy's life easier, but not in any way that made it too easy or became an obstacle to putting the detective in perilous situations. The balance now though may sometimes seem like it's swung too far in the opposite direction.
When I began writing modern mystery stories, one difference I noticed immediately is that instead of finding ways for my characters to get the information they needed, I sometimes had to figure out how to make it HARDER to get it. Does the character have to be isolated, trapped, cut off from calling for backup? Then I have to have his cell phone lost or taken away or destroyed or have the character someplace where there's no service. Does a robbery take place and the cops have to figure out who did it? Then some mention probably has to be made of a building's security cameras and how the crooks managed to either disable or evade those cameras. In a world of cell phones, email, cameras, GPS, and all sorts of other technological advances, the work of a detective may have gotten easier, but those who have to write stories in which the detective is challenged are often challenged too!

I'm making an observation about this difference, but I'm not complaining (well not much anyway) because it's fun to be able to create stories in two diferent eras that are so close together and yet so far apart. People are the same, the clothes we wear are not much different than what we wore 50 or 75 years ago (styles change but function remains the same), we still drive cars that are the same basic shape, and we still experience the same emotions, fears, hopes, joys. It really is a different era though. Those of us who are my age or a little older are lucky to have been able to experience both those eras, before the very-connected world and during the very-connected world. And those of us in that age range who write are lucky too, because we have, in a way, two different worlds in our memories and sets of experiences from which to draw inspiration.

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