1. JoetheLion
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    JoetheLion Member

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    Contemporary Settings: Will use of technology cause rapid dating?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by JoetheLion, Jun 2, 2016.

    Most of my novel is set in contemporary London, where my two MCs live. In order for them to go about their day-to-day lives in a convincing way it's impossible for them to avoid using such things as smartphones, tablets, Wikipedia, ect. What worries me is that by including such technology in my story, which I have to do to a certain extent, am I dooming my work to date rapidly? Do I just have to lump it and carry on regardless?
    Thoughts?
     
  2. Diane Elgin
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    Diane Elgin Member

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    This is a tough one. If you work in generalities for more enduring technology you can avoid tying yourself down to any particular era. Refer to 'Mobile Phones' and you can be talking about the Zack Morris cement blocks of yestercade or today's app-loaded smart sets. 'Computers' will span your story even further. However, the essence of great writing is in strong plot and characters, particularity and immersion so avoiding generalities will strengthen your work.

    Ultimately, there's nothing wrong with your story being set in a particular era so long as the story behind it endures. You could be talking about the day to day lives of feudal Japanese peasants and it will still work if it ties into the reader's expectations of a story; that it has characters to invest in and is resonant to the social and cultural challenges of our time.
     
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  3. JoetheLion
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    JoetheLion Member

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    I'd rather avoid generalities, while I could get away with them in a different piece, in this one it'll come across as clunky and a deliberate avoidance tactic. It's not helped by the passage of time being an important element of the story. I suppose I just have to accept that my setting, modern day as it is, will eventually look like history whether I like it or not. After all, history starts with the second that has just passed, and 'now' never really exists anyway.
     
  4. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    It depends. Some sites come and go, others really haven't. 'MySpace' went from ubiquitous to an ancient relic in a span of a few years, but Google has become synonymous with 'Search online' and shows no sign of slowing down.
    It's impossible to predict what will stick around and what will eventually peter out. I'd use *some* generalities. Say "Iphone," but not "Iphone 6+". Facebook has a solid decade under its belt and is still going strong, so it should be safe. Same with Youtube. In a decade your story will seem dates no matter what, so just roll with it, take a few precautions so you aren't sounding *too* specific, and you'll be fine.
     
  5. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    The thing is, referencing specific technologies/etc might date it in a few years, but not referencing them can stand out too. Plots set before the 90s or so can fall apart if you go into them thinking "Why wouldn't they just call someone with their cellphone?" or "Why wouldn't they just look it up on the internet?". Eventually those ways of thinking will be antiquated too. "Why didn't they mentally access the spacefuture internet and learn particle physics in two seconds to solve this problem?" or whatever. There's no way to avoid that. I find it's better to bank on you story being realistically grounded in the period it's set in. I mean, don't reference the hot new memes, because that'll date it when in two weeks everyone's forgotten that one funny thing that happened on the internet that one time, but you're probably safe just referencing the internet and smartphones, yknow?
     
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  6. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories are dated worse than any of this. That doesn't stop anybody from reading them ;) At least, not anybody who matters ;-)
     
  7. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    @Chained summed it up perfectly :)

    Fantasy = Break all the rules, F it
    Non-Fiction = Follow those rules or we'll break you
    Contemporary Fantasy = If you break the rules, we'll be mad. If you don't break enough, we'll also be mad.
     
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  8. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    Warning: Any Advice given by Chained is barely regulated at best. Advice from Chained has been only rarely associated with increased risk of frustration, heart attack, and temporary loss of sanity.

    If writers block persists for more than 4 hours, please contact your local favorite book.
     
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  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    No it won't be dated. If it is set in London in 2016, then the technology you reference will always be accurate for 2016 London. That will still be true in 100 years, and in 1000.
     
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  10. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    I agree, if the story is gripping like his were, the out of date stuff is of little consequence to the readers experience.

    People still love to read Jules Verne too. Homer is still a great read too even though his work is two thousand years out of date.
     
  11. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    "Oh no, this thriller is set in 1970's NYC instead of generic, vaguely timeless, some point in the 20th century NYC! Book ruined!"
    -Quoth nobody.
    I say embrace it. Use all the flavour that a given time period renders unto you, and get a better story for it.
     
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  12. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    I think that even the successful sites, like Facebook and Google, will someday be replaced by better platforms. No matter how great something is, innovation will always elevate it to the next level. The people who are kids right now will probably grow up to create the new inventions, if they don't arise sooner.
     
  13. taariya
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    taariya Member

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    Real-life technology used within books only seems dated when characters emphasize how cutting edge it is, or if its use contradicts the apparent setting of the novel.

    Example 1: A character uses MySpace or Google to look up information about another character. They specifically talk about how the internet has made this possible and how it wasn't possible before and how things have changed. (I have read this in a novel before). Had she simply used MySpace and gotten on with her life, I would have been like "Okay this is set like three forevers ago, sure" and moved on. But the author made her point it out, and in doing so uncomfortably dated the novel.

    Example 2: A character uses outdated technology and doesn't emphasize how special it is, but it's weird because they're using the technology in an otherwise modern story. For example, let's say smartphones and Netflix and smart watches or whatever exist in the story, so you assume it's basically present day. If a character started using Yahoo! instead of Google, or MySpace instead of Facebook, with no apparent reason (old non-techsavvy character, specific situation where outdated technology is preferable) that's weird and it makes me look to see when the book was published, which automatically dates it.

    There's wiggle room. For example, I once read a book where a woman time traveled from the 19th century to present-day (back when 2008-ish was present day) and she was discovering all sorts of new technology. Of course the technology is old news to the reader, but for her everything was new and it made sense for her to be amazed by things we consider everyday and to use outdated or plain bad technology/websites. In that case the novel is dated but it makes sense within the story and so it doesn't matter.
     
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  14. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    What bothers me more is when familiar modern technology is used incorrectly, even though everyone in the real world used that technology at the time the story was written/set and knows that's not a function of that particular piece of technology.

    For example, it frustrates me when people are shown playing video games on tv. They will all be mashing buttons on the control and wiggling both thumbstick wildly. And yet on the screen they will show some sort of racing car game. Even intuitively you know that button mashing and thumbstick wiggling is not going to get you very far in a racing car game. And yet the one who mashes and wiggles the hardest will win the race.

    So if you're going to include today's technology, just use it right and don't make a big deal about it.
     
  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    In art college, we were told, "be a part of your times." I took this to mean, create art that reflects when and where I live. It can also mean to tackle (or at least touch on) issues that are deemed important to me or to people I know.

    For what you're asking, I can only assume my painting prof would tell you to include everyday objects because, even though smartphones may make your story seem dated 50 years from now, anyone who wants to know what a smartphone is will be able to look it up on whatever the 2066 equivalent of Wikipedia will be.

    And if you don't include smartphones, you'd have everyone using land-lines which would seem dated today... or your readers might get the impression there's a disaster going on that you're somehow not talking about... or that it's set in the past and you forgot to mention it.

    Just imagine reading Mark Twain or Charles Dickens. Sure, those stories are dated with their rafts on the Mississippi, child labour, horses-n-buggies, but no one really talks about that. They talk about the stories. And hopefully, your future readers will, too, and they'll ignore those quaint gadgets you mention from time to time.
     
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  16. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Just do it. If it's set in the 2000s, of course your characters will want to use the tech given. If my college-aged MC starts using a phone from the 1960s and a MAC from the 1990s, everyone will think him weird. Similarly, if my Colonial MC decided he'd rather live like a caveman than someone from the 1700s, they'd think he'd gone quite insane.
     

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