One of the problems with setting a technology driven story in the present is that technology changes. Not only do the gadgets change, but we change as well. How then, does a writer keep a technology driven story current, given that writing a book can take years?
The more things change the more they stay the same:
I bought my first USB flash drive when I was a freshmen in college. It cost $40 and was 128 megabytes. Today, for only $30 I can buy a flash drive that is 512 times bigger. But despite improvements in utility and storage capacity these two drives are essentially the same device. The keyboard and mouse have been around since time immemorial, the CD since the early 80s. If you avoid specifics like cost, capacity or brands then your tech will stay fresher longer. (Who knows if the Kindle will even be a thing in ten years but I bet there’ll be eReaders of one stripe or another!)
Technology exists long before we own it:
I bought my first laptop after college. I still don’t own a smart phone or an iPad (though I have a cheap Android tablet). Chromecast looks neat , but I’m not planning on buying a compatible TV until mine breaks. Even in my work at [an engineering firm], smart phone adoption is neither essential nor universal. If your character is a hacker, then they need the latest tech, but if your story takes place on social media, the ways in which we interact with that world are many and diverse. I’m on Facebook on my ten year old desktop, or my new tablet. Lots of you use your phone. Most of us don’t have the money to buy the latest tech until after our old tech breaks, but that doesn’t mean we can’t adopt new technology trends.
Don’t be afraid to invent technology in the present:
The pace of technology is fast, and what seems like fiction today, is fact at lunchtime. If you can dream it up, chances are that technology could exist within ten years. And even if it isn’t commercial, there are always technology wizards and geniuses cooking up neat devices long before their time.
Write a period piece:
If you’re writing in a particular moment in time, don’t try to make it look like the present day. Add historical details if your story takes place in, for example, the waning years of the Bush era. Or how about the early 2000s, before social media exploded, or before the mid 90s when cell phones started to be more prevalent. Chances are your readers will still remember that moment and it will give them a chance to reflect on how life has changed in such a short time. A story about 1997 written in 2013 may be more durable than a story written in 1997 about the present day.
Remember all good stories are character driven:
Though your story may be technology driven in terms of plot, what drives story, what keeps our interest, is always characters. Science fiction may at times be able to get away with writing about some future technology that may one day have an impact on our lives without the need for fully realized characters, but your story won’t. Technology may set the stage, but it’s your characters that make a story worth reading.
How about you? Do you use technology in your stories about the present?
One response to “Present Tech”
I wrote a story taking place in the present, but made sure to include the date. Writing in the present meant that I knew what was available (no chance of accidentally forgetting that something didn’t exist five years ago), but having a date shows the readers when the story was set. As you say, it’s useful to leave specific brands or programs unnamed (mentioning ‘cute, captioned cats’ or ‘video chat’).
The story is at http://teawithflo.com/2013/04/19/over-exposure/