Sunday, April 12, 2009

Technology Steals Your Plot Devices?

Conspiring with a distant lover? Try texting. Lost in the woods/wilderness/Ionic Sea? Use GPS. Case of mistaken identity? Facebook!

Technology is rendering obsolete some classic narrative plot devices: missed connections, miscommunications, the inability to reach someone. Such gimmicks don’t pass the smell test when even the most remote destinations have wireless coverage. (It’s Odysseus, can someone look up the way to Ithaca? Use the “no Sirens” route.)

Of what significance is the loss to storytelling if characters from Sherwood Forest to the Gates of Hell can be instantly, if not constantly, connected?
Am much tickled by Matt Richel's piece If Only Literature Could Be a Cellphone-Free Zone in The New York Times, but the point he makes about how modern technology undermines traditional plot devices is food for thought.

But surely technology opens the door to new plot possibilities? An online friend told me how one day he was given a parking ticket by a very attractive traffic warden. Chatting her up there and then wouldn't be an option, so he slipped his handphone (an old one he didn't mind losing) into her bag without her noticing, so that he could ask her out on a date later. (And yes, the ploy worked.)

Or there's the wife who goes through her husband's handphone numbers looking for the names of women he might be having an affair with, and finds herself having a blazing row with a police officer in Bukit Aman with whom the husband had had some official business. (True story.)

These are just two scenarios I stole to jot down in a notebook, planning to use them for stories one day.

Times change and I'm sure that all down the ages there were some writers cursing some new technological innovation which rendered some of their devices obsolete, while others embraced the possibilities enthusiastically ... and still others (Orwell, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson - to name but three of many) were way ahead of it.

(Thanks for the link, Chet!)


Baronhawk said...

Wasn't it Alexander Graham Bell that said "When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us".

Tue enough for writers as well. There is a whole new world of possibilities to explore out there.

As you have alluded Sharon, tis a brave new frontier.



Yusuf Martin said...

Assuming,of course, that everyone, everywhere in the worls actually has access to the latest technology.

I know that I am one of the very few where I live to have internet access. Many do not bother with either the internet nor even computers. Only the younger people here have hand phones.

And this is not just true of an ulu town in Malaysia, but globally.

How presumptuous it is to assume just because some middle class have full access to modern technology, everyone has. Emphatically they do not!

bibliobibuli said...

quite right. my husband doesn't know how to use his handphone yet!

Drachen said...

I once had an interesting text chat with a friend only to find out at the end I was talking to his daughter! (You may use this for your story one day!)